French authorities said Monday that two men arrested for the brutal killing in Paris of an 85-year-old Jewish woman, Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, would be charged with an anti-Semitic murder.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said the two suspects have been put in custody. It said it was asking investigating judges to charge the pair with premeditated murder of a vulnerable person for anti-Semitic motives.
They will face possible charges of “murder related to the victim’s religion, real or imagined” as well as aggravated robbery and destruction of property, judicial sources said.
The prosecutor’s office asked that the two be placed in preventive custody.
One of the men was a regular visitor of Knoll whom she treated “like a son” and who had visited her that day, her son Daniel said.
“We are really in shock. I don’t understand how someone could kill a woman who has no money and who lives in a social housing complex,” her son added.
Israel’s Hadashot news reported that this suspect was a former neighbor of Knoll’s who was jailed for sexually assaulting the daughter of a woman who helped look after her. After his release from jail, Knoll complained that he had been threatening her, the TV report said.
The French foreign minister, who is visiting Israel, said it was likely that the motive for her killing was anti-Semitic, and that his country must continue to fight against anti-Semitism.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, said he had a “moving and difficult moment” when he heard about “the outrageous murder” of Holocaust survivor Knoll in Paris, just after ending his visit to Yad Vashem.
“We cannot yet say if the motive for the murder was anti-Semitism, but it is reasonable to assume,” Le Drian said. “Therefore, this only strengthens the fact that this struggle has not ended, and that we will need to continue fighting against anti-Semitism.”
The chief rabbi of Paris, Haim Korsia, wrote on Twitter that he was “horrified” by the killing.
Two men have been arrested over the killing of Knoll, whose stabbed body was found after her Paris apartment was set ablaze, police sources said.
One suspect was identified as a 29-year-old man. No details were given on the second suspect.
An autopsy conducted on Knoll, who lived alone, showed her charred body also had at least 11 stab wounds.
A forensic examination of the apartment showed that an arsonist started a fire in at least five distinct areas of that space, the report also said.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said that it had not yet determined a motive, but “is not excluding any hypothesis.”
“A preliminary examination of the elements of the crime does not reveal an anti-Semitic characteristic, but this possibility has not been discounted as police investigate further,” said a spokesperson for the Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ), which works closely with the French police.
The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, wrote in a statement Sunday that the suspected murder “is reminiscent of the crime committed against Sarah Halimi,” a 66-year-old Jewish teacher and physician, whom prosecutors say was murdered by her Muslim neighbor in April, partly in connection with her Jewish identity
A granddaughter of Knoll, Noa Goldfarb, wrote on Facebook that her grandmother was murdered by a neighbor who is a Muslim.
“Twenty years ago, I left Paris knowing that neither my future nor that of the Jewish People is to be found there,” wrote Goldfarb, who lives in Herzliya, Israel. “But who would’ve thought that I was leaving my relatives where terrorism and cruelty would lead to such a tragedy. Grandmother was stabbed to death 11 times by a Muslim neighbor she knew well, who made sure to set fire to her home and left us not even one object, a letter, a photograph, to remember her by. All we have are our tears and each other.”
A Paris lawmaker who spoke with one of the woman’s sons said she had managed as a child to evade the notorious 1942 roundup of over 13,000 Jews in Paris during World War II.
Fewer than 100 of those who were detained at the so-called Vel d’Hiv cycling track and then sent to the Nazi death camps survived.
The CRIF umbrella grouping of French Jewish organizations urged “the fullest transparency” by the authorities investigating the killing, “so that the motive of this barbarous crime is known as quickly as possible.”
France’s half-a-million-plus Jewish community has voiced increasing concern over a rise in violent anti-Semitic acts.
“The barbarity of this murder sends us back to that of Sarah Halimi, just one year ago,” Francis Kalifat, president of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities, said in a statement Monday.
Halimi was a 66-year-old Jewish teacher and physician, whom prosecutors say was murdered by her Muslim neighbor in April partly in connection with her Jewish identity. Anti-Semtisim was included in the indictment against Halimi’s suspcted killer, Kobili Traore, 28, after CRIF and BNVCA vocally protested its absence from the draft document.
“CRIF expects total transparency in the current investigation, so that the motives for this barbaric crime are known by all as fast as possible,” Kalifat added in the statement about Knoll.