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Paris: Two charged with anti-Semitic murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor

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Paris: Two charged with anti-Semitic murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor
Photo: AFP
08:52 CEST+02:00
Two people have been charged with the murder of an 85-year-old French Jewish woman, who was repeatedly stabbed and whose body was then set alight in a crime being treated as anti-Semitic, a judicial source said Tuesday.
Mireille Knoll, who managed to flee a mass roundup of Jews in Paris during World War II, was found dead Friday in her apartment in the east of the French capital, where she lived alone.
 
An autopsy showed she had been stabbed several times before the apartment was set on fire.
 
Two men were arrested over her killing on Monday and were to be brought before a magistrate to face possible charges of "murder related to the victim's religion, real or imagined" as well as aggravated robbery and destruction of property, judicial sources told AFP.
 
One of the men was a regular visitor of Knoll's whom she treated "like a son" and who had visited her that day, her son told AFP, asking not to be named.
 
The apartment block in the 11th arrondissement of Paris where the alleged murder took place. Photo: AFP
 
"We are really in shock. I don't understand how someone could kill a woman who has no money and who lives in a social housing complex," her son added.
 
Speaking during a visit to Jerusalem on Monday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was "plausible" that Knoll was killed because of her religion and her death showed the need for a "fundamental and permanent" fight against anti-Semitism.
 
The chief rabbi of Paris, Haim Korsia, wrote on Twitter that he was "horrified" by the killing.
 
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After meeting one of Knoll's sons French MP Meyer Habib wrote a Facebook post that began with the words: "The nightmare continues for French Jews".
 
"The authorities are being cautious and seem reluctant to recognize at this stage the anti-Semitic character [of the murder]. But for the family it's almost a certainty," said Habib.
 
Investigators had initially said on Sunday they were "not excluding any hypothesis" with regard to the motives for her murder.
 
But Jewish organisations in France have been keen to make sure French police looked into the possible anti-Semitic nature of the murder.
 
"The investigation does not reveal any anti-Semitic elements, however, this path has not been ruled out to date and needs to be further explored," said the Protection Service for the Jewish Community (Service de protection de la communauté juive, SPCJ)  a body which keeps close watch an anti-Semitic acts in France.
 
France's leading Jewish umbrella group CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), said in a statement that it "expects the authorities to operate with the utmost transparency in the ongoing investigation so that the motives for this barbaric crime are known to everyone as soon as possible." 
 
Although the investigation is at an early stage, the killing has echoes of the murder of Sarah Halimi , an Orthodox Jewish woman who was brutally murdered in her own home, also in the 11th arrondissement, by her neighbour in April 2017. 
 
Amid shouts of "Allah Akbar" (God is great), Koranic verses and insults, her attacker beat Halimi before throwing her out of the window.
 
 
The president of Jewish community group the Consistoire Israelite, Joel Mergui, told AFP that he wanted to "understand what happened and not let the same silence that followed the murder of Sarah Halimi a year ago in the same arrondissement happen again."
 
 
 
Anti-Semitic violence
 
The most recent figures available show that anti-Semitic violence increased by 26 percent last year in France and that criminal damage to Jewish places of worship and burials increased by 22 percent.
 
In January an eight-year-old boy wearing the Jewish skullcap was beaten up by two teenagers in the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles in what prosecutors said appeared to be attack motivated by the child's religion.   
 
A record 7,900 French Jews emigrated to Israel in 2015 following the deadly jihadist shooting at a Parisian kosher supermarket two days after the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
 
That exodus has since slowed, but a spate of anti-Semitic attacks since have continued to frighten one of Europe's biggest Jewish communities, numbering an estimated half a million.
 
A global study in 2014 found that one in three French people held anti-Semitic views, although experts suggested the figure exaggerated the problem of anti-Semitism in France. 
 
"Stating 18 million French people show signs of anti-Semitic attitudes seems excessive to me," Marc Knobel, head of studies at CRIF told The Local at the time. "I have never seen a figure like that before."
 
"I don't doubt that anti-Semitism exists in certain categories of the French population, and there is anti-Semitic violence in France, but France is not an anti-Semitic country," he said.
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