While police in southern France arrested five Chechens on suspicion of preparing a terror attack after a cache of “dangerous explosives” were found near a soccer stadium, more than 800,000 Muslims marched through Chechnya, in support of the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre in which 12 people lost their lives.
Yesterday, the huge crowd of people gathered in the Russian region of Chechnya for the protest against the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in Charlie Hebdo. Protesters marched through the streets of Grozny, releasing balloons and carrying posters that read “Hands off our beloved prophet” and “Europe has only united us.”
Just last Friday, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram page that those who defended Charlie Hebdo were his “personal enemies”, and vowed that at least 1 million people would join the government-sponsored protest in Grozny.
While he wasn’t quite correct that the march would gather 1 million people, Kadyrov was clear about the message of hate and intolerance the demonstrators espoused. And with numbers like that who wouldn’t be scared? The Russians certainly were as the Russian communications oversight agency, Roskomnadzor, sent letters to several local publications barring them from re-publishing the French caricatures, and issued a warning to nationwide publications on its Facebook page last week.
That warning read, “Roskomnadzor calls on all national media to choose other methods of expressing their solidarity with their tragically killed French colleagues, rather than inflaming sectarian tensions in Russian society.”
Chechnya wasn’t the only place to see angry protests supporting the stance of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. In the main market square in Bannu, Pakistan, thousands of people chanted, “Death to the government of France,” and set fire to dozens of French flags and an effigy of the former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
While those protests were going on, around 2,000 Muslim brothers in Iran demonstrated outside the French embassy in Tehran, shouting, “Death to French.”
Meanwhile, in Gaza City, some 200 radical Islamists tried to storm the French cultural centre on Monday, shouting slogans threatening the lives of staff over Charlie Hebdo cartoons, an AFP photographer reported.
In Gaza the shouts of hatred were similar to those in Chechnya and Iran, with protestors chanting, “Damnation upon France!” holding black flags adopted by jihadists.
French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday that anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters in other countries do not understand France’s attachment to freedom of speech.
“We’ve supported these countries in the fight against terrorism,’ Hollande said during a visit to the southern city of Tulle, traditionally his political fiefdom. “I still want to express my solidarity (towards them), but at the same time France has principles and values, in particular freedom of expression.”