French police fatally shoot Algerian national believed to be responsible for setting fire to synagogue

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, following an assessment of the fire-damaged synagogue, disclosed that the suspected arsonist, an Algerian national, had not been flagged as a potential extremist.

French police fatally shoot Algerian national believed to be responsible for setting fire to synagogue
AP Photo/Jeffrey Schaeffer
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An armed man was killed by French police following a fire at a synagogue in Rouen, Normandy on Friday.

The man was armed with a knife and a metal bar and the incident has been described by the French interior minister as being "clearly" antisemitic in nature.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, following an assessment of the fire-damaged synagogue, disclosed that the suspected arsonist, an Algerian national, had not been flagged as a potential extremist. The individual, who had applied for permission to remain in France for medical purposes, was denied and subsequently placed on a police watchlist for potential repatriation.

Darmanin commended the actions of a 25-year-old police officer who, faced with a knife-wielding assailant described as "particularly dangerous" and "violent," used his service weapon. Emphasizing the officer's response, Darmanin stated, "He made the correct decision."

“This antisemitic act in Rouen affects all of us, deeply,” he said, noting that France is “extremely determined to continue protecting all the Jews of France, wherever they are, who must practice their religion without fear."

Antisemitic incidents in France have surged following the Israel-Hamas conflict. France is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Western Europe.

The leading French Jewish organization described the synagogue fire as "a scandalous message" and a declaration that "Jews don't belong in French society." Additionally, this week, a Paris memorial honoring individuals who bravely rescued Jews during France's Nazi occupation in World War II was vandalized, with painted blood-red hands defacing it.

“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,” said Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, to the Associated Press.

“Everyone is wondering whether they can live a peaceful life in France as a Jew,” he continued. “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.”

In the early hours of Friday morning, firefighters responded to reports of a fire at the synagogue. Upon arrival, police officers found a man on the roof of the building, holding a metal bar in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other, with smoke emanating from the synagogue's windows, revealed prosecutor Frédéric Teillet.

The man jumped off the roof and charged at police. An officer shot five times, hitting the man four times and killing him.

Rouen Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol called the man's incendiary device a "sort of Molotov cocktail" and said he started a fire that caused "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."

French Prime Minister Gabrial Attal stated that authorities documented 366 antisemitic incidents in the initial three months of 2024, marking a 300% surge compared to the corresponding period in the previous year. Furthermore, he noted that over 1,200 antisemitic acts were reported in the final quarter of 2023, a figure three times higher than the entirety of incidents recorded in 2022.

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