Horrified by deadly attacks, French Muslims protect church

PARISE (AP) – When Elyazid Benferhat learned about an extremist, fatal Islamist assault on a church in Nice, he was turned against his stomach as a French-born Muslim.

He wanted to behave, then.

A self-described man of goodwill and pragmatism, the young Muslim men of Benferhat and his friends came together to watch for the All Saints' weekend, symbolically defend it and demonstrate a sense of unity with the Catholic Church representatives outside the Cathedral.

Parishioners were greatly influenced at the church of the 13th century in the southern town of Lodeve.

In a moment of chaos, the parish priest said his action brought him optimism.

His mother was born in Algeria, born in France, and educated in France, speaking only French. Benferhat, with a characteristic Southern French acent, described himself to be "Much French rather than anything."

"I'm Muslim, too ...

And in that nation we had Islamophobia, and terrorism, "the Associated Press told him.

"I've got a fist in my bosom over recent years," because, as he said, French Muslims face fresh stigmatization any time Islamic terrorist violence hits France, even though "we've nothing to do with it."

He characterized the decapitation of a teacher near Paris last month as an act of "ungredient, unparalleled brutality," as he was illustrating his class caricaturing of the Prophet Mohammed for discussion on free speech.

Benferhat said that he was so dismayed that he tried "to do something so that everybody would awake." Later, after three people were killed last Thursday in Nice's Notre Dame Basil.

"We had this concept," said Benferhat, who works for the French oil firm Total and coaching at a local football club in Nice. "We had the idea and we had this idea.

We had to do more than pay tribute to the victims.

We decided we're going to defend ourselves churches.

They hired volunteers from mates and his soccer team and held the church for Sunday Mass that night and again.

He said they were also organized with the local police, as the French Government vowed to make religious sites more safe.

"These young people who are opposed to aggression are really nice," Rev. Luis Iniguez, the priest of the Cathedral said to AP.

In the Gothic Cathedral, which is an anchor for town-life, the local newspaper reported a Picture of Parishioners standing with their Muslim Guards.

"People were pleased to see that," he said in addition to continued fears of the virus, particularly in the sense of recent reports about strains between France and the Muslim World.

The little city's gesture gained media coverage, with which certain far-right voices became invective.

Yet Benferhat said the response was "90% positive."

His community plans to pick the concept forward for Christmas and to pursue Lodeve 's example again in other cities.

For now, though, all worship services in France will be barred from attempting to slow fast-growing infections by viruses at least until 1 December.

He says "it will come from the heart" whatever he does next.