SAVERNE, France — French prosecutors called Wednesday for five teenagers suspected of vandalizing hundreds of Jewish graves to be charged, arguing there was a clear “anti-Semitic motive” behind their alleged act.
Some 250 tombs were vandalized last week at a Jewish cemetery in the northeastern town of Sarre-Union.
Five adolescents aged 15 to 17 were detained for questioning over the incident, in which tombstones were pushed over and vaults opened.
The youngest came forward earlier this week after being taken aback by the scale of the reaction across the country to the vandalism. He denied any anti-Semitic motive from the group of boys, none of whom has a criminal record.
But on Wednesday, local prosecutor Philippe Vannier told reporters that, despite their denials, “the anti-Semitic motive of their behavior is now clear” after a probe into the incident.
He said all five boys admitted to taking part in the vandalism but continued to maintain they were not motivated by anti-Semitism.
Vannier has asked for an official inquiry to be opened for “desecration and violation of burial places due to the religion of the deceased.”
He said the vandalism, which happened on Thursday last week but was only discovered Sunday, appeared to be part of a game that went wrong.
The act shocked France, and prompted fresh pleas for Jews not to turn their backs on the country, particularly after violence against Jews in Copenhagen last week and the jihadist attacks in Paris in January.
President Francois Hollande, who visited the cemetery on Tuesday, vowed the state would protect French Jews.
“I know some are asking if they can live in peace in their country, and ask who will protect them against those who wish them harm,” he said.
“One more time, I want to give the Republic’s response — that it will protect you with all its force.”