France condemns attack on Jewish teenager

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The Jewish teenager was wearing a kippah when a gang of youths attacked him with metal bars and smashed his skull.

23 June 2008

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday led condemnation of an attack in Paris that left a Jewish teenager in a coma after he was beaten with metal bars, which organisations said was motivated by anti-Semitism.

The 17-year-old was lying in a coma in hospital after being savaged Saturday evening by youths in Paris' multi-ethnic 19th district, his father said.

"We were celebrating Shabbat. My son was wearing his kippah (skullcap) and was coming home," he told RTL radio.

"A gang of about a dozen youths attacked him because he was wearing a kippah and because he is a Jew," said the father, identified only as Philippe. "My wife and I are very upset."

Sarkozy, travelling to Israel for a state visit, issued a statement expressing his "profound indignation" and reaffirmed his "total determination to combat all forms of racism and anti-Semitism."

Defence Minister Herve Morin later urged the French courts to be "intransigent" when the case comes to trial.

"Justice must be implacable with these matters," he told BFM-TV. "The Republic must be intransigent on this issue," he added, calling for sentencing of those found guilty to be "applied with the utmost rigour."

Police said they had detained five youths in connection with the beating.

"There is no doubt that this is an anti-Semitic act," said Ariel Goldmann, vice president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF).

Sammy Gholzan, from the Bureau for Vigilance on Anti-Semitism, said a group of six or seven youths attacked the teenager, a member of the local Lubavitch community, with metal bars and "smashed his skull".

Condemning the attack, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe called on authorities to enact new measures to combat xenophobia if the investigation showed that it was motivated by anti-Semitism.

"If intolerance was at the heart of this tragedy, then this compels authorities to take all necessary measures to guarantee in our republic freedom of conscience and safety for all," said Delanoe.

Sarkozy's governing right-wing UMP party condemned a "savage and anti-Semitic attack" and called for severe punishment for the perpetrators, party spokesman Dominique Paille said.

The opposition Socialists called for a full investigation into the "attack which appears to have an anti-Semitic character" and said those responsible should be tried quickly, party spokesman Stephane Foll said.

Three prominent anti-racism organisations also suggested it was a troubling act of anti-Semitic violence and called on French authorities to take action to combat hate crimes.

"What is taking place in a corner of Paris is inadmissible and must raise serious alarm with our elected officials," said SOS Racisme.

The League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism recalled the 2006 murder of Jewish Frenchman Ilan Halimi and added "it is high time to deal a decisive blow to the unspeakable violence that Jews suffer in a recurrent fashion in the heart of the capital of the French republic."

Halimi, 23, was kidnapped by a gang and brutally murdered in February 2006, prompting French authorities to pledge a new resolve to fight anti-Semitism.

The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples said it was "horrified and condemned with the utmost severity the unspeakable anti-Semitic attack against a young man of Jewish faith".

Anti-Semitism is a sensitive issue in France, where the 600,000-strong Jewish community is western Europe's largest, and which is also home to a five-million strong Muslim population.

[AFP / Expatica]

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