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French police kill Algerian who set fire to Rouen synagogue

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French police shot dead a knife-wielding Algerian man who set fire to a synagogue and threatened police in the city of Rouen on Friday in the latest antisemitic attack, officials said.

Police officers work after police shot dead an armed man earlier who set fire to the city's synagogue in Rouen, France, May 17, 2024. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

French police shot dead a knife-wielding Algerian man who set fire to a synagogue and threatened police in the city of Rouen on Friday in the latest antisemitic attack, officials said.

"An armed man somehow climbed up the synagogue and threw an object, a sort of Molotov cocktail, into the main praying room," said mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, adding that nobody else was harmed in the shocked city in the northwestern Normandy region.

Police found the man on the synagogue roof with an iron bar and kitchen knife, shooting him when he defied orders to stop.

France, like many countries across Europe, has seen a huge spike in anti-Jewish acts since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel's military response in Gaza.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the attacker's bid for a residency permit had been recently rejected. He was otherwise not on the radar of police or intelligence services.

"This antisemitic act affects us all deeply," Darmanin said after visiting the synagogue, adding that France was doing all it could to protect its Jewish community.

The synagogue's rabbi Chmouel Lubecki said his wife was there at the time of the attack.

"We had a great fright," he told BFM TV.

His wife "heard gunshots and screams ... and then she saw smoke coming from the synagogue, so she immediately went down, she helped the firefighters get in the synagogue."

Such an attack was expected, he said, due to the rise in antisemitism. "We had this fear inside of us, but when it actually happens, it's still shocking."

Natacha Ben Haim, president of Normandy's Jewish community, said the praying room's walls and a lot of furniture had been blackened by fire and smoke. "It's catastrophic. Yes, I'm upset, I'm very upset," she told reporters.

OLYMPICS COMING

France hosts the Olympic Summer Games in two months and is on the highest level of alert given a complex geopolitical backdrop in the Middle East and Europe's eastern flank.

Prosecutor Frederic Teillet said a police officer followed correct procedure in opening fire after the attacker ran towards him brandishing the knife and ignoring a command to halt.

"Arriving on site (at the synagogue), firefighters and police spotted a man on the roof of the synagogue, he was brandishing an iron bar in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other," he said, describing smoke coming out of the windows.

The synagogue was later blocked off by police officers as evidence was collected. Mayor Mayer-Rossignol said it was surrounded by a series of security cameras.

France has recorded 366 antisemitic acts in the first three months of 2024, three times as many as the same period last year.

"No one can deny this antisemitic wave. No one can deny the fact that it is estimated that French Jews represent 1% of the French population, but that more than 60% of anti-religious acts are antisemitic acts," he said.

Rabbi Lubecki urged the community to carry on as usual.

"Tonight is Shabbat (Sabbath). It is important to light the Shabbat candles to show that we are not afraid and that we continue to practice our Judaism despite the circumstances," he said.

By Gonzalo Fuentes and Dominique Vidalon

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