Four former directors of French Shi’ite center arrested

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The French government shut down the Zahra Center in March last year after it allegedly called for armed jihad, condoning violence by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

Policemen stand next to the "Centre Zahra France" religious association in Grande Synthe near Dunkirk early on October 2, 2018 during an operation of "terrorism prevention" (photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP)

Policemen stand next to the “Centre Zahra France” religious association in Grande Synthe near Dunkirk early on October 2, 2018 during an operation of “terrorism prevention”

(photo credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP)

Four former directors of a Shi’ite Muslim center in France were arrested on Tuesday after allegedly continuing to run an association that was closed down for allegedly encouraging armed jihad, according to AFP.

The Zahra Center was founded in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, a religious figure who has supported the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.

In 2009, Gouasmi, created an anti-Zionist political party (Parti Antisioniste) that ran in the European elections and included the notorious comedian Dieudonne, who has been widely accused of antisemitism, and far-right polemicist Alain Soral, Le Monde reported.

The French government shut down the Zahra Center in March of last year after it allegedly called for armed jihad, condoning violence by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
The center has also been accused of disseminating hate speech, antisemitism and inciting violence.

A judicial source told AFP that the four former leaders of the center were arrested on Tuesday as prosecutors investigated them for “participation in or maintenance of a dissolved association.” One of the four has been released for health reasons.

The four are being accused of preaching on site and on social media.

A dawn anti-terror raid by French police on the Zahra Center in October 2018 yielded a cache of illegal firearms.

“The activities of Center Zahra France are under particularly close watch given its leaders’ clear support for several terrorist organizations and movements espousing ideas contrary to (French) republican values,” read a statement from the prefect’s office, at the time.

The Center has ties to Hezbollah and Iranian cells in France, Le Monde reported, and has been a source of “virulent anti-Zionist propaganda.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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