June 13th, 2024

French police fatally shoot a man suspected of setting fire to a synagogue

By Jeffrey Schaeffer And John Leicester, The Associated Press on May 17, 2024.

ROUEN, France (AP) – France’s Interior Minister said Friday that a man who was shot and killed by police after a suspected arson attack on a synagogue in the Normandy city of Rouen was an Algerian national who’d sought medical treatment in France and wasn’t flagged as a suspected extremist.

The minister, Gerald Darmanin, praised the 25-year-old police officer who shot and killed the man, saying he will be decorated for his “extremely courageous, extremely professional” behavior faced with the suspected attacker who rushed at him with a kitchen knife early Friday after the blaze broke out at the synagogue.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

ROUEN, France (AP) – French police shot and killed a man armed with a knife and a metal bar who is suspected of having set fire to a synagogue in the Normandy city of Rouen early on Friday, the latest apparent act in a storm of antisemitism roiling France amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Fire services were alerted early Friday morning to a blaze at the synagogue. Police officers who deployed discovered the man on the roof of the building, clutching the metal bar in one hand and the kitchen knife in the other, and smoke rising from the synagogue’s windows, Rouen prosecutor Frédéric Teillet said at a brief news conference.

He said the man hurled abuse and threw the metal bar at the police before jumping off the roof and then running at one of the officers with his knife raised.

The officer fired five shots, hitting the man four times, fatally wounding him, the prosecutor said. He said authorities are seeking to verify the man’s identity. The prosecutor took no questions.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin posted on the social media site X that the man was “clearly wanting to set fire to the city’s synagogue.”

He congratulated officers for “their reactivity and their courage.”

Tensions and anger have grown in France over the Israel-Hamas war. Antisemitic acts have surged in the country, which has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in western Europe.

Rouen Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said the man is thought to have climbed onto a trash container and thrown “a sort of Molotov cocktail” inside the synagogue, starting a fire and causing “significant damage.”

“When the Jewish community is attacked, it’s an attack on the national community, an attack on France, an attack on all French citizens,” he said.

“It’s a fright for the whole nation,” he added.

Photos taken inside the synagogue and seen by The Associated Press showed that walls and the ceiling were charred and blackened.

In Paris, Yonathan Arfi, head of the main French Jewish umbrella group, expressed fury at what he described as the “climate of terror” facing Jews in France. This week, a Paris memorial honoring people who distinguished themselves by helping to rescue Jews in France during the country’s Nazi occupation in World War II was also attacked, defaced with painted blood-red hands.

“It’s unbearable. It’s more and more serious every day. After the antisemitic graffiti we saw in the past few days, antisemitic slogans, antisemitic insults, we now have attempts at setting synagogues on fire,” Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, told the AP.

“Everyone is wondering whether they can live a peaceful life in France as a Jew,” he added. “There’s a climate of fear because it feels like, anywhere in our country and at any time, an antisemitic attack can take place. It aims at intimidating French Jews and we won’t accept this intimidation. We refuse it, and we will continue to fight against this unbridled antisemitism.”

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said this month that the sharp spike in antisemitic acts in France that followed the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel has continued into this year.

Authorities registered 366 antisemitic acts in the first three months of 2024, a 300% increase over the same period last year, Attal said. More than 1,200 antisemitic acts were reported in the last three months of 2023 – which was three times more than in the whole of 2022, he said.

“We are witnessing an explosion of hatred,” he said.

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Leicester reported from Paris. AP journalist Alex Turnbull contributed.

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