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Strong words from France against a cleric considered a "household name" in Middle East.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy today said some Muslim clerics are "not welcome" on French soil following a deadly shootout believed to have been the work of an Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman who was killed after dramatic three-day police seige last week, reported Reuters.
Mohamad Merah, the 23-year-old shooter who described himself as a "mujahedeen," is believed responsible for the deaths of seven people before being shot by French security forces after a 32-hour seige in Toulouse last week.
More from GlobalPost: Who was Mohammed Merah?
Sarkozy, who is currently campaigning for re-election, told France Info radio today that "certain people" invited to an Islamic conference in France next month are "not welcome," according to Reuters.
The French leader singled out top Sunni cleric and former member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, a figure who regularly appears on Al Jazeera and is considered a "household name" in the Middle East, said Reuters.
More from GlobalPost: What the Toulouse shootings mean for the election
Sarkoy reportedly informed the Emir of Qatar, where Al-Qaradawi is based, that "this person was not welcome on the territory of the French republic," stating, "He will not come," according to Reuters.
The Union of French Islamic Organizations today responded to Sarkozy's remarks by defending Al-Qaradawi, saying he has been "a positive influence on the Muslim world and who is constantly attacked by extremist movements because of his modern positions, in favor of democracy, women's rights and dialogue between civilizations," the German news agency DPA quoted the statement as saying.
Sarkozy's comments today are timed to rising fears over Islamic activity in France, with last week's events believed to be the first killings driven by radical Islamic ideology seen in the country since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.
Merah was also considered a "homegrown" terrorist, according to The New York Times, someone who operated more or less independently but with came from a background of delinquency -- details that have raised further concerns in France, home to the largest Muslim population in Europe.