The Belgian government has refused permission for the Grand Mosque in the EU quarter of Brussels to be recognised as a local faith community, claiming that the place of worship has been infiltrated by Moroccan spies.
The decision to deny the application was made by the justice minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, following advice from the security services, according to media reports. Recognition as a faith community secures financial support and assistance from the government.
It is alleged that three employees at the mosque, including a director, are agents of Moroccan intelligence services.
“I cannot and will not accept that foreign regimes hijack Islam for ideological or political motives, try to call the shots here and prevent Muslims in our country from developing their own progressive Islam,” Van Quickenborne said. “By keeping my mouth shut on that, I’m not doing anyone a favour – certainly not the Muslims in our country.”
Belgian authorities began focusing on the mosque – the largest in the city – following the Islamist attacks that killed 32 people in the Belgian capital in March 2016.
In March this year, fears that the mosque was being used to promote radicalism prompted the government to end Saudi Arabia’s lease of the building and assume control of it.
“The concession will be terminated immediately … in order to put an end to foreign interference in the way Islam is taught in Belgium,” the government said at the time.
Belgium leased the Grand Mosque to Riyadh in 1969, giving Saudi-backed imams access to a growing Muslim immigrant community, mostly from Morocco and Turkey, in return for cheaper oil.
It was run by the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL), a missionary society mainly funded by Saudi Arabia. The MWL denies it espouses violence.
Following the termination of the lease, the mosque was used to house the offices of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, an official body that represents Muslim communities across the country. Belgian security sources told Reuters that the executive was close to the Moroccan government, with which Belgium has strong intelligence ties.
The government intervention means the mosque will have to register again as a place of worship. The Muslim Executive of Belgium and the Moroccan government have been contacted for comment.
Van Quickenborne told the Belgian station VRT Radio 1 that the Muslim Executive, the largest group representing Muslims in Belgium, and a non-profit set up by the organisation for the training of imams, should also remove representatives of the Moroccan government and open itself up to female participation.
He said: “All organs of the Muslim Executive must be restaffed with Muslims who mean well to our country.”
Reuters contributed to this report.