France's religious leaders pray at defaced Muslim war graves
Muslims and members of other faiths gathered Monday to condemn the desecration of 148 Muslim graves at France's biggest war cemetery.
ABLAIN SAINT NAZAIRE, France, April 8, 2008 - Muslims and members of other faiths gathered Monday to condemn the desecration of 148 Muslim graves at France's biggest war cemetery.
Some 150 Muslims, Christians and Jews prayed together in the Muslim section
of the Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery in northern France as a mark of
solidarity to protest what a local Islamic leader called an "odious and
They laid a wreath at the graves of the soldiers who died fighting for
France in World War One, whose desecration on Saturday night caused widespread
shock, and said a prayer for the dead.
Abdelkader Aoussedj, deputy head of the French Council for the Muslim
Religion for the area, said his community was very touched by the
"mobilisation of national and regional" authorities and by the "marks of
sympathy" expressed by other religions.
He urged Muslims to remain calm, and French authorities "to condemn those
responsible with the utmost severity".
The attack discovered Sunday morning left swastika signs, a pig's head and
insults against Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who is of North African origin,
on the desecrated graves.
Prominent Catholic and Jewish religious leaders, along with President
Nicolas Sarkozy, have expressed anger at this latest vandalism of Muslim war
graves, which came less than a year after a similar incident.
In April 2007 neo-Nazis scrawled swastikas on 52 of the same cemetery's
Muslim graves. Two men aged 18 and 21 and a 16-year-old were swiftly arrested
and sentenced to prison terms.
"It's shameful to see the same act repeating itself, against people who
sacrificed their lives for France's independence," another local Muslim
leader, Bahssine Saaidi, said.
He added that everyone, including religious communities and public figures,
should make an effort to "find solutions in the face of such acts", demanding
that that those who incite "hatred between communities" must be "really
A police force in Lille, situated in northern France in charge of
enquiries, said, "we're working with many possibilities, nothing has been
Prosecuter Jean-Pierre Valensi, who works in Pas-de-Calais, where the war
cemetery is situated, suspects these acts were linked to "a skinhead
movement", although he specified police had not yet questioned anybody.
On Sunday, a hundred or so police officers gathered evidence, including
grafitti and DNA at the cite, which could take a few days to examine. Over the
next week, police will carry out an inquest into a crime they have classified