A man armed with a knife attempted to enter a kosher grocery store near a Jewish school in the city of Marseille Friday morning, before being overpowered by security personnel and arrested by police.
The man was first spotted by security guards at the Yavne Jewish high school in the city emerging from a vehicle with a knife. Media reports said he had a piece of cloth, possibly a towel, wrapped around his head.
It was initially reported that the man, said to be in his 60s, attempted to enter the school. Police later said that he made no attempt to enter the school, but was noticed by security personnel behaving suspiciously. They then followed him as he attempted to go into the kosher shop and wrestled him to the ground.
“The attention of school security personnel was drawn to the suspicious behavior of the individual in the street,” a police statement said.
The children were sequestered inside the school while police searched for any explosives or accomplices, a police spokeswoman said. No one was hurt in the incident and the man’s motives remain unclear, she said.
“The man was immobilized until the arrival of [police],” she said.
Police towed away the suspect’s car and cordoned off the area. Local police have reinforced security around Jewish sites in the city in the wake of the incident.
A witness said it was a rapid police operation, and described the area as a gathering place for people in the local Jewish community.
“When the students get out of school they buy sandwiches here, buy meals for the sabbath, and a lot of parents from the school get their coffee and croissants there and drink it outside… He saw this gathering of people,” the witness, who asked only to be identified by his first name, Laurent, told the Associated Press.
Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog said the incident was “a warning bell for the anti-Semitism bubbling under the surface.”
“Anti-Semitism and the danger to Jewish lives did not end with the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. Hatred was “just waiting to erupt when the crisis ends.”
The year 2020 saw several jihadist attacks against Jews in France, including an October stabbing attack in Nice that left three dead; the October decapitation of history teacher, Samuel Paty, in the Paris suburbs after he showed students cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression; and the stabbing of two people outside the former headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Jews have been targeted in multiple attacks, including the murders of Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll in 2017 and 2018.
In January 2015, four Jewish men were murdered during an attack at the Hyper Cacher market in Paris, as part of three days of attacks in which 17 people were killed, beginning with the massacre of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo after it published controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons.
Marseille saw several stabbing attacks targeting Jewish men in 2015-2016, in which five were injured.
In 2012 Mohammed Merah engaged in a killing spree that left seven people dead in southern France, including three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse.