Paris-area Holocaust memorial vandalized as riots continue into 5th night

Violence following shooting death of French-Algerian teenager raises fears of repeat of 2014 riots targeting Jewish communities.

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Young rioters clashed with police into early Sunday and targeted a mayor’s home with a burning car as France saw a fifth night of unrest sparked by the police killing of a teenager, but overall violence appeared to lessen compared with previous nights.

Police made 719 arrests nationwide by early Sunday after a mass security deployment aimed at quelling France’s worst social upheaval in years.

The crisis posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, and has sparked fears among local Jews that they could be targeted by he rioters.

The 17-year-old, whose death Tuesday spawned the anger, was laid to rest Saturday in a Muslim ceremony in Nanterre, a Paris suburb where emotions remain raw. He has been identified publicly only by his first name, Nahel.

As night fell Saturday over the French capital, a small crowd gathered on the Champs-Elysees to protest his death and police violence but met hundreds of officers with batons and shields guarding the avenue and its boutiques. In a less chic neighborhood of northern Paris, protesters set off firecrackers and lit barricades on fire as police shot back with tear gas and stun grenades.

A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of l’Hay-les-Roses overnight. Several schools, police stations, town halls and stores have been targeted by fires or vandalism in recent days but such a personal attack on a mayor’s home is unusual.

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Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the attack at 1:30 a.m. while the family was sleeping and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence.

Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said in a statement the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest, and urged the government to impose a state of emergency. French news reports said a prosecutor opened an investigation into attempted murder.

Skirmishes erupted in the Mediterranean city of Marseille but appeared less intense than the night before, according to the Interior Ministry. A bolstered police contingent arrested 55 people there.

Nationwide arrests were lower than the night before. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin attributed that to “the resolute action of security forces.”

More than 3,000 people have been detained overall since Nahel’s death. The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shop owners whose stores have been ransacked — but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of France’s current crisis.

Hundreds of French police and firefighters have been injured in the violence, although authorities haven’t said how many protesters have been hurt. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet.

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For many Jews living in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles and other areas with significant Muslim populations, the riots have been reminiscent of the outbreak of violence in 2014, when French Muslims targeted Jewish businesses and neighborhoods in response to fighting between Hamas terrorists in Gaza and Israel.

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Thus far, the riots have not specifically targeted Jews, Jonathan Curiel, a 40-year-old resident of Sarcelles told the Times of Israel, though a Holocaust memorial was vandalized in Nanterre and some antisemitic chants have been reported at the riots.

“In 2014, I was afraid as a Jew. This time, I’m afraid as a Frenchman,” Curiel said.

However, “Israel is closely monitoring and deeply concerned about ‘waves of antisemitism sweeping over France,’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

“In recent days, we have witnessed criminal assaults against Jewish targets. We strongly condemn these attacks and support the French government in its fight against antisemitism,” he added.

On Saturday, France’s justice minister, Eric Dupond-Moretti, warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face prosecution. Macron has blamed social media for fueling violence.

The violence comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities are due to host the summer Olympics, whose organizers were closely monitoring the situation as preparations for the Games continue.

Hundreds of mourners stood along the road Saturday leading to a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre to pay tribute to Nahel as his white casket was carried from a mosque to the burial site. His mother, dressed in white, walked inside the cemetery amid applause.

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This week, Nahel’s mother told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer who shot her son at a traffic stop, but not at the police in general.

“He saw a little Arab-looking kid. He wanted to take his life,” she said. Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.

Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.

Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability.

In 2005, France was shaken by weeks of riots prompted by the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois while fleeing police. Clichy has seen new violence this week.

“Nahel’s story is the lighter that ignited the gas. Hopeless young people were waiting for it. We lack housing and jobs, and when we have (jobs), our wages are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transportation worker in Clichy.

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