A previously unknown Islamic militant group, Jamaat Ansar Al-Jihad al-Islamiya, said yesterday it set fire to a Paris-based Jewish-run soup kitchen.
Sunday’s arson attack, in which nobody was killed or injured, was condemned by French President Jacques Chirac amid fears of a new wave of anti Semitic violence in France.
“A group of young mujahedeen (fighters) … have torched the Jewish temple in Paris at 04:00 Paris time,” said Jamaat Ansar Al-Jihad al-Islamiya, whose claim could not be independently verified.
The group 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 added. The group stressed that these “acts are carried out by the descendants 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.”
Officials said the center, situated in central Paris, was gutted by the fire early Sunday. Police found swastikas daubed in red ink on two fridges inside and poorly spelled anti-Semitic slogans.
France is home to Europe’s biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, estimated at up to 800,000 and 5 million, respectively, out of an overall population of 60 million. In a statement, Chirac stressed his “absolute determination of the state to find the perpetrators of these unacceptable acts.”
Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin visited the center to examine the damage and promised to punish those responsible, news reports said. However The Jerusalem Post news paper suggested yesterday that the French authorities are fighting an uphill battle.
It cited fresh figures from the Interior Ministry that show the number of racist and anti-Semitic attacks soared in the first half of 2004. Over 300 Jewish graves were reportedly defaced in the east of the country since April, and in August vandals desecrated 60 graves at a Jewish cemetery in the city of Lyon.
French Interior Ministry officials found that 510 anti-Semitic acts or threats took place in the first six months of the 2004, compared with 593 for all of 2003. At the same time, according to ministry statistics, 135 physical attacks were committed against Jews. This compares with 127 such attacks in all of 2003, The Jerusalem Post newspaper said, citing ministry statistics.
Expressions of anti-Semitism also included graffiti on Aug. 13, when a sign saying “Death to Jews” was found on a wall on the grounds of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Last month, 200 French Jews completed the “aliya,” their migration to Israel, after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged Jewish people in France to rush to the Promised Land and escape what he called “the wildest anti-Semitism.”
Journalist Stefan J. Bos has traveled extensively to cover wars and revolutions and received the Annual Press Award of Merit from the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his coverage about foreign-policy affairs including Hungary’s relationship with NATO and the European Union.