By Imogen Calderwood
An attack on a woman in France because she wore a bikini in a public park has sparked outrage on social media.
The 21-year-old victim, who has been named as Angelique Sloss, was beaten up by a gang of reportedly Muslim young women - aged between 16 and 24 – when she was sunbathing with two friends.
Protesters wearing bikinis and swimsuits held a rally at the park, in the northern city of Reims, yesterday despite rain and cold winds.
Hundreds across France joined the campaign on Twitter, posting photos of themselves wearing swimsuits in public places.
Spectators have likened the campaign to the JeSuisCharlie Twitter campaign, following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January.
One Twitter user added: ‘All women are free to wear what they want, and no one can decide for them.’
Another wrote: ‘I’m posting a photo to say no to the draconian oppression of liberty.’
The anti-racism organisation SOS Racisme with the hashtag ‘JePorteMonMaillotAuParc’, meaning ‘I wear my swimsuit in the park’.
The attack took place on Wednesday at Parc Leo-Lagrange.
All five women were arrested after the attack, with the eldest three - named in French newspapers as Ines Nouri, Zohra Karim and Hadoune Tadjouri - set to appear in court in September.
The 16-year-old and 17-year-old involved in the attack remain anonymous.
French police said the attackers came from housing estates with large Muslim populations.
This has sparked assumptions that the attack was religiously-motivated, and the incident is being held up by some right-wing observers as proof that radical Islamic ideas pose a threat to French values.
The Mayor of Reims, Arnaud Robinet, said: ‘We have to be very careful not to jump to conclusions. All the same, I can understand why people have assumed that this attack had religious motives. If that turns out to be the case, it is a very serious incident.’
One of the group is reported to have shouted at the woman for ‘immorally’ exposing so much flesh in public.
The woman responded and the group attacked her, slapping and punching her.
Passers-by managed to stop the assault, but Ms Sloss has been unable to go to work following the assault because of the "severe bruising."
Police told L’Union newspaper that they couldn’t confirm whether the attack was motivated by religious opinions."
Four years ago a poll by the Le Monde newspaper found that Islam is considered a ‘threat’ by many French and Germans to their national identity.
The poll of 1,600 people in both countries found that Muslims have ‘not integrated properly’.
Le Monde ran the results under a headline which brands efforts to get different religious communities to live side by side as a ‘failure’.
France, with 7million, and Germany, 4.3million, have the largest Muslim communities in Europe. There are around 2.4million in Britain.
In 2010 Germany’s Angela Merkel conceded that her country’s multicultural society had ‘failed’ while a number of French politicians have complained about the growing influence of radical Islam.
According to the Le Monde poll, carried out with marketing firm IFOP, 68 per cent of French and 75 per cent of Germans believe Muslims are ‘not well integrated into society’.
Others – 55 per cent in France and 49 per cent in Germany – said they believed the ‘influence and visibility of Islam’ was ‘too large’, while 60 per cent in both countries said the reason for the problem is Muslims’ own ‘refusal’ to integrate.
Just as crucially, 42 per cent of French and 40 per cent of Germans consider the presence of Islamic communities ‘a threat’ to their national identities.
In France the government has displayed a hard line towards religious extremism and has banned Islamic veils.
Police said tonight that the attack had 'absolutely nothing to do with religion’.
In fact Angelique Sloss, 21, got into an argument in the park after another young woman from a 'rival gang' told her to put her clothes on.
It was windy and overcast at the time, and a number of youngsters took sides in the dispute, and began fighting, police said.
Julie Galisson, the local police superintendent who is leading the enquiry into the incident, said: ‘It was a fight between young girls which degenerated after one of the authors of the aggression said: “Get dressed, it’s not summer”.
‘One of those arrested would not leave her alone and this degenerated into violence,’ Mrs Galisson said.
The police officer added: ‘As is clear from the statement of the victim and those implicated, there is no element of a religious or moral element which explains the aggression.’
Despite other police sources telling AFP, France’s national news agency, that it was a ‘banal story of a fight between young girls from rival gangs’, far-right posters took to social media to try and blame it all on Islam.
A handful of protesters even turned up at the park wearing bikinis on an equally cold day, saying they insisted on their ‘right to wear a bikini’.