Paris: France, where police ended two hostage dramas on Friday killing Islamist brothers wanted for the Charlie Hebdo massacre and a third suspected extremist who attacked a Jewish supermarket, has the biggest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe.
Between 500,000 and 600,000-strong, France`s Jewish community is also the third biggest in the world, after Israel and the United States. France`s Muslims are estimated at between four and five million.France has long had a difficult relationship with its Muslim minority that dates back to bloody struggles in its former North African colonies and the legacy of immigrants trapped in some of the country`s poorest districts.
Long decades of insurgency against French rule in Algeria in the mid-twentieth century, followed by a spate of Algerian terrorist attacks in France in the 1990s created difficulties for communal relations -- which reawakened with the rise of global jihadism after 9/11.
This week`s jihad-prompted massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine has further stoked fears of Islamophobia in a country that has struggled to integrate its millions-strong Islamic minority.
Algerians, whether by nationality or origin, are the biggest and oldest Muslim group in France and are estimated at more than 1.5 million.
They come ahead of Moroccans who number around one million and Tunisians at 400,000. Sub-Saharan Africans, mainly from Senegal and Mali, represent several hundred thousand, along with Turks and Asian Muslims.
The country has between 1,500 and 1,800 mosques and prayer rooms, the biggest and oldest of which is the Paris mosque built in 1922 in homage to the Muslims who fought for France during World War I.
France`s Muslims have been represented since 2003 by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), a national elected body, which serves as an official interlocutor with the French state in the regulation of Muslim religious activities.At a time of mounting anti-Semitic attacks, more than 7,000 of France`s Jews emigrated to Israel in 2014, more than double the previous year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The organisation said it was the first time that France`s Jews represented the biggest world contingent of the Alyah, a Hebrew term for emigration to Israel.
The influx is expected to continue in 2015, the Jewish agency says, estimating that more than 10,000 new immigrants will make the journey from France.
France has more than 500 synagogues and oratories, according to the Jewish Consistory which was created in 1808 by Napoleon I and remains the body which officially represents the Jewish faith in the country, electing the Grand Rabbi.
Before World War II, the number of Jews living in France was estimated at 300,000. During the war, 76,000 Jews were deported from France by the Nazis with the help of the Vichy regime.
From 1945, Jewish immigration to France resumed. Between 1955 and 1965, Jews arrived from North Africa after the end of French colonial regimes in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.