How A Conspiracy Theory About The Notre Dame Cathedral Led To A Mosque Shooting

Rowaida Abdelaziz
Flames and smoke billow from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.

When the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire in April, far-right pundits and extremists quickly spread groundless accusations that Muslim attackers started the blaze. Last week, a former far-right political candidate who had embraced that conspiracy theory went to a mosque in the French city of Bayonne and tried to set it on fire. He shot two Muslim men who confronted him.

Claude Sinké, an 84-year-old former local candidate for France’s far-right National Rally party, faces multiple charges including arson and attempted murder for the attack. He told investigators it was an act of revenge for the Notre Dame fire.

French civil rights groups have said that the nation’s politicians have failed to treat rising Islamophobia with the gravity it deserves. And although French President Emmanuel Macron called the Bayonne mosque shooting and arson a “heinous attack,” prosecutors did not charge Sinke with any terrorism offenses. 

“These actions [amount to] a terrorist act because Claude Sinké wanted to kill Muslims for political and ideologic reasons,” said Méhana Mouhou, the lawyer representing the victims injured from the attack told HuffPost.

Mouhou said the victims, who are 78 and 74 years old, are still hospitalized. At least one of the victims is paralyzed in his right arm and right leg, the lawyer said. 

Prosecutors have not yet detailed what sources led Sinké to believe the Notre Dame fire was set by Muslims. But in France and many other countries around the world, far-right pundits and politicians seeking personal and political gains have helped stoke disinformation campaigns that demonize Muslims, Jews and other minority groups, often resulting in violence. 

Amar Kariouh, 78, on Wednesday showed the bullet hole to his neck as he recuperates at a hospital in France after he was wounded on Oct. 28 in an attack at a mosque.

Notre Dame Cathedral was undergoing renovation work when the fire broke out, and investigators identified an electrical short-circuit as the blaze’s likely cause. But conspiracy theories started metastasizing soon after news of the fire spread internationally.

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