French police voice doubtsover mother and baby attack

13th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 12 (AFP) - Doubts arose late Monday over an alleged anti-Semitic attack on a young mother and her baby on a Paris suburban train, an incident that drew fierce condemnation from politicians, civil rights groups and Jewish associations.

PARIS, July 12 (AFP) - Doubts arose late Monday over an alleged anti-Semitic attack on a young mother and her baby on a Paris suburban train, an incident that drew fierce condemnation from politicians, civil rights groups and Jewish associations.

President Jacques Chirac added racism to a list of crimes excluded under his annual Bastille Day clemency given to prisoners after the alleged assault in which the women said a gang of six youths had cut her clothes and drawn swastikas on her body after mistaking her for a Jew.

The national newspapers gave it front-page prominence under such headlines as "The Train of Hate" and "Vile and Stupid."

But police sources told AFP that they were puzzled by "contradictions" that had emerged since the incident Friday and the lack of confirming evidence.

The 23-year-old woman, identified by the press only as Marie L. said the alleged attackers had believed her to be Jewish because her old identity card gave her address in Paris' fashionable 16th district, and had tipped over her baby carriage with her 13-month-old child.

"Only Jews live in the 16th district," one of the men was quoted by the press as having said.

Investigators said closed-circuit cameras at the station where the woman said the attackers had alighted did not reveal the presence of six youths.

Police were continuing to check all video-surveillance cameras along the line, and officers rode the trains in search of witnesses.

Railway personnel at the ticket office where the woman said she reported the affair could remember nothing about it, the investigators said.

Frank Carabin, a representative of a police officer's union, said it was curious that no witnesses had come forward, and he added, "there are inconsistencies in the statement" of the woman.

Carabin urged caution. "The inquiry is continuing but with uncertainties," he said."

Another police union official, Bruno Beschizza, said, "Since yesterday (Sunday) evening, contradictions have appeared. There are not enough elements of proof."

A 28-year-old man interviewed by AFP said he had seen the woman on the platform of the station where she said she boarded the train before the attack. He said her clothes were torn and she was crying. "I asked her if she wanted help, and she said no," the man said.

The reported attack drew a sharp reaction from Chirac, who said he would deny clemency to any prisoner serving time for a racist crime, to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who said: "Anti-Semitism is a disgrace. We want to fight this sort of intolerable racism."

The woman, identified only as Marie L. spent more than an hour with the secretary of state for victim's rights, Nicole Guedj. She left in a car with darkened windows without giving comment to the media.

Later, politicians appeared to start backing away from the story.

"I hope there's not going to be too much doubt about this affair," the president of the Ile-de-France region whispered to Guedj in an aside recorded and broadcast by France 2 television.

Guedj appealed to witnesses to come forward, including a couple she said had helped her get off the train and have not appeared since.

One shocking aspect of the story, according to newspapers, was the fact that a score of people reportedly watched the attack but did not come forward to help - itself a crime in France, where non-assistance to a person in danger is punishable by up to five years in jail.

Guedj said she understand people might be frightened, and she said witnesses could give evidence anonymously.

"She told me there were some 20 people who could have seen what happened, especially a young man sitting nearby. She's counting on him to make himself known," Guedj said.

The gang forcibly held her head down so she could not see their faces, according to a report in Le Monde newspaper. Despite this, other newspapers had no hesitation in identifying the alleged attackers as Arabs and Africans.

According to interior ministry statistics, the number of racist incidents has soared this year.

There were 135 physical acts (vandalism, arson, assault, and attacks or attempted attacks) against Jews in the first half of 2004, compared to 127 for all of 2003, according to the statistics.

For the same period, there were another 95 acts against other ethnic groups - mainly those of North African Arab background - compared to 92 for all of last year.

The country is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, estimated at 600,000 and five million respectively.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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