Skip to comments.Islamic group claims responsibility for Jewish center attack
Posted on 08/23/2004 6:34:12 AM PDT by yonif
French investigators said Monday they were skeptical about claims of responsibility for Sunday's attack on a Paris Jewish center by an unknown Islamic group.
The group, Jamaat Ansar Al-Jihad, issued a claim of responsibility Sunday evening on the Islamic Web site known for militant Islamic comment.
The message said the attack was "in response to racist acts by Jews in France against Islam and the Muslims and the desecration of Muslim cemeteries by Jews".
"It is also meant ... as a simple response to the racist and savage acts by Jews in Muslim countries like Palestine and other Muslim and Arab countries," it said.
It said such "acts are carried out by the descendents of monkeys and pigs, with the help of the French government which stands idle before the Jews at the expense of the Muslims in France," AFP news agency reported.
It said the blaze marked the 35th anniversary of a fire at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which gutted the southeastern wing of the holy shrine.
Investigators said they doubted the claim because they did not believe a small neighborhood community center would have drawn attention from international militant groups. As well, the post referred incorrectly to the community center as a synagogue.
The Jewish community center in eastern Paris, used as a meeting place and soup kitchen for the elderly and disadvantaged, was torched before dawn on Sunday. No one was hurt as flames tore through the center on the first floor of a six-story building, located near the Bastille square.
When the smoke cleared, graffiti with anti-Semitic slogans such as "Jews get out" was found scrawled across the walls, police said.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and other top officials visited the center, the latest target in a continuing wave of anti-Jewish attacks in France.
"I came here today to say that France cannot accept a trivialization of anti-Semitism," the prime minister said. "The perpetrators of such crimes we can use the term crime here since there is proof of arson and racism are liable to a stiff penalty of up to 20 years in jail. The country's [police] force will be mobilized so that the culprits [will] be arrested as soon as possible and [will] be severely punished. This is an intolerable attack against the Jewish community, against social workers, and against the inhabitants of this area."
In a statement, President Jacques Chirac condemned the attack and pledged solidarity with the Jewish community. The government is "determined to find the perpetrators of this unacceptable act so that they can be tried and convicted with the greatest severity" allowed by law, Chirac said.
Bertrand Delanoe, mayor of Paris, also came to see the remnants of the Jewish social center. He condemned "the dangerous and unhealthy atmosphere in which these anti-Semitic and racist aggressions tend to multiply. The perpetrators of this arson are assassins of our values. We shall not yield one inch to the barbarians."
Firefighters were called to the scene at about 3:30 a.m. local time and extinguished the flames by early morning. The center's wooden doors and walls were charred by the flames. Apartments on the building's upper floors were not damaged.
Police investigators immediately suspected the fire was set deliberately. They said the arsonist broke into the premises through a back door, daubed the walls with anti-Semitic graffiti, set the fire, and left the way he came in. Inside the building, authorities found anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas scrawled in red marker. Among the messages were "Without the Jews, the world is happy," "Hitler=France," and "SS."
Claude Zaffran, the rabbi of the nearby Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue, and Haim Musicant, secretary-general of CRIF, the political umbrella group for France's Jewish community, accompanied the prime minister on his visit to the site.
Zaffran said he was "deeply pained and distraught." He told Raffarin that his grandfather was killed in action during World War I while fighting for France. "I was brought up on the ideals of the Republic, ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity. What is happening now to the Jews in France?" Zaffran asked. He continued, "I have the impression I'm seeing the same movie with the same script. Beyond the declarations and speeches, there must be strong actions to end the string of anti-Semitic acts."
The fire left Serge Benhaim, a local Jewish community leader, in a state of shock. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post a few hours after the fire, he expressed his fear that the center might never reopen. The neighborhood businesses which financed it might simply not be able to bear the cost of repairs.
France has suffered a long wave of anti-Semitic violence since 2000, coinciding with worsening tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.
Some of the violence has been blamed on young French Muslims, although the Muslim community itself is a frequent target of racist attacks. France has the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe.
The government has already made efforts to tackle anti-Semitism. In December, it announced a broad campaign that includes encouraging French schools to lead class trips to Auschwitz and punishment for anti-Jewish remarks in the media.
Extra security at Jewish places of worship and schools and tough sanctions against anyone found guilty of perpetrating anti-Semitic acts are also part of the policy. Sunday's fire was first detected by police assigned to patrol outside a nearby synagogue.
While many top government officials hurried to publicly condemn the attack, a close adviser to the French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, told The Jerusalem Post he was not sure about "the wisdom of media over-exposure of anti-Semitic incidents."
"We know there are anti-Semitic groups and organizations [and] we are slowly getting at them. However, those idle isolated imbeciles...who know for sure that two swastikas will propel their actions to the headlines, disrupt our work. I do not say we should cover up anti-Semitic acts, but I say our political leaders should think twice before rushing in front of the cameras to denounce aggression that is no less horrible than other racist aggressions against Muslims for instance."
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom responded to the attack by saying that Israel expresses its "deep concern as a result of the additional, disgraceful anti-Semitic attack in France." Shalom said Israel stands behind France's Jews in the face of these continuing attacks, but was careful not to call on French Jews to immigrate to Israel as a result.
Shalom also made a point to praise the French authorities for the speed with which they reacted to the attack, "especially President Jacques Chirac and the mayor of Paris. We are convinced that the French government will continue to work aggressively and in a determined manner against this despicable phenomenon."
Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky said, "In France the radical Left and the intelligentsia demonize and deligitimize the very existence of Israel... There is a very close connection between that and the existence of anti-Semitism. The government of France doesn't want to acknowledge that and even denies it. Until they see the connection between the demonization of Israel and the deligitimization of Israel, the anti-Semitism will continue, even though they are truly, honestly doing more to combat anti-Semitism than any other government in Europe."
"... and, in a related story: Michael Moore claims responsibility for famine; and the earth's gravitational field claims responsibility for our all not falling upwards, into the sun." :)
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