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Four Ex-directors Of France Shiite Centre Arrested

FRANCE -- Policemen spread around the "Centre Zahra France" religious association in Grande Synthe during an operation of "terrorism prevention", near Dunkirk, October 2, 2018
Lille, France, Sept 16, 2020 (AFP)

Four former directors of a major Shiite Muslim centre in France have been arrested on suspicion of continuing to run the association despite its dissolution over alleged support for armed jihad, a judicial source said Wednesday.

The Zahra Centre in northern France was founded in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, a religious figure who has spoken in support of Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

It was shuttered in March last year by the French government for alleged calls to armed jihadism and condoning violence by Hezbollah and other organisations classified as terror groups.

The centre is also alleged to have disseminated hate speech, anti-semitism and to have incited violence.

The judicial source told AFP that four former leaders of the centre were taken into custody on Tuesday, though one has been freed for health reasons.

Prosecutors are investigating the group for "participation in or maintenance of a dissolved association".

The four are accused of preaching on site and on social media, the prosecution service said.

In October 2018, French police launched a dawn anti-terror raid on the centre as well as the homes of its directors, yielding a cache of illegal firearms.