French president pledges to fight anti-Semitism ‘with the greatest firmness’

Francois Hollande promises Jewish leaders to boost synagogue security after incident in Paris suburb

Francois Hollande (CC-BY Jean-Marc Ayrault/Wikimedia Commons)
Francois Hollande (CC-BY Jean-Marc Ayrault/Wikimedia Commons)

PARIS — France is boosting security at Jewish religious sites after blank bullets were fired on a synagogue west of Paris.

French President Francois Hollande met Sunday with leaders of the country’s Jewish community amid renewed concerns about anti-Semitism, and pledged to fight extremism and anti-Semitism “with the greatest firmness.”

He said authorities “in the coming days, in the coming hours” will increase security at Jewish religious sites so they won’t be subject to the kind of attack that targeted a synagogue in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil on Saturday night.

A representative of the synagogue said the building was targeted with about eight blank bullets and services were cancelled. The representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a police investigation is under way, said no one was hurt in the incident.

A leading French Muslim organization, the CFCM, denounced the synagogue attack. It said in a statement Sunday that it “assures the French Jewish community of its support and fraternal solidarity in the face of all attacks that target its members and institutions.”

The French Jewish community says it has been the target of increasing anti-Semitic attacks over the last several months. Earlier this year a Muslim gunman targeted a Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse, killing a rabbi, his two children and another girl.

On Sept. 19, a kosher grocery in the heavily Jewish Paris suburb of Sarcelles was firebombed, injuring one person. The attack came the same day a French satirical paper published crude caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Anti-Western protests were also growing at the time against an anti-Islam film.

“What happened in Sarcelles was just a start, or was just a test,” Sammy Ghozlan, head of a French group that tracks anti-Semitism in the country, said. “Islamism is a force of influence and Islamists are going to seek out the weakest people to teach them to kill.”

On Saturday, French police carried out raids around the country to dismantle the group responsible for the firebombing, arresting 11 members of a Jihadi cell of young Frenchmen recently converted to Islam.

One man was killed when he opened fire on police in the eastern city of Strasbourg, injuring three. Officials said they had been tracking the man, identified as Jeremy Sydney, since the Toulouse shootings in March.

One arrested man was carrying a loaded gun, and police found weapons, cash and a list of Paris-area Israeli associations during the raids.

“You can imagine what their other plans could have been,” counterterrorism official Eric Voulleminot said at a news conference.

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