Muslim war veteran graves desecrated in France
About 500 graves of French Muslim war veterans were defaced Sunday, the eve of Islam’s Eid al-Adha feast.
ABLAIN-SAINT-NAZAIRE – Vandals daubed swastikas and anti-Islam slogans on 500 graves of French Muslim war veterans in an attack that President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned Monday as "revolting".
It was the third time over the past two years that Muslim tombstones were desecrated at the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette cemetery, one of the nation's biggest military graveyards, in northern France.
About 500 of the 576 Muslim graves were defaced Sunday, the eve of Islam's Eid al-Adha feast, and the damage was discovered early Monday by a passerby, state prosecutor Jean-Pierre Valensi told reporters at the scene.
Dozens of police were scouring the cemetery Monday as a major probe got under way that was expected to draw in hundreds of law enforcement officials, the prosecutor said.
Sarkozy denounced the latest outrage as "abject and revolting" and said it was "the expression of a repugnant racism directed against the Muslim community of France."
The president ordered that the perpetrators be quickly found and brought to justice "with the full severity that this requires."
In the latest attack, swastikas and slogans insulting the Prophet Mohammed and France's justice minister Rachida Dati were painted on graves, and some 20 nearby Jewish tombstones were also desecrated, according to police.
"At first glance, this looks very much like the previous desecration", said Valensi.
In April, vandals desecrated 148 Muslim graves, hanging a pig's head from one tombstone and again taunting Dati, who is of North African descent.
As with the previous attacks, there was broad condemnation from French politicians, and opposition Socialist leader Martine Aubry said "this is hurtful to all French people".
The anti-racism group SOS Racisme called on authorities to dismantle "the small groups that are active in the region" and said prosecutors from various regions must coordinate efforts to end the attacks.
Two young men with neo-Nazi sympathies are awaiting trial over April's desecration. They deny involvement.
One of the two has already been convicted for the desecration of 52 Muslim graves at the cemetery a year earlier, in April 2007.
Security has been beefed up at the cemetery, especially around religious holidays, but police said they had detected nothing out of the ordinary during regular patrol of the area at midnight.
"It is a completely open site and it is extremely difficult to ensure proper surveillance," said Bruno Besson, a commander at the local gendarmerie. He added that a study was being drawn up to increase security at the cemetery.
Notre-Dame-de-Lorette cemetery, near the town of Arras, holds the graves of tens of thousands of victims of a series of long and bloody battles for control of northern France at the start of World War I.
Inaugurated in 1925, the site houses the remains of about 40,000 soldiers, half of them in named graves, and also includes an ossuary with the bones of thousands more, a basilica and a museum.
The Muslim sector contains 576 tombs, grouped together and turned towards Mecca.
[AFP / Expatica]