French police shoot dead armed man suspected of planning synagogue attack

17 May 2024, 16:34

France Shooting
France Shooting. Picture: PA

The Interior Ministry confirmed that the suspect was shot and killed in Rouen in Normandy.

French police say a man shot and killed outside a synagogue in the Normandy city of Rouen threatened officers with a knife and a metal bar.

Police were alerted that smoke was rising from the synagogue and came face to face with the man when they got there, national police said.

An officer opened fire and killed the man, police said.

The suspected arsonist was an Algerian national who was not flagged as a suspected extremist, said interior minister Gerald Darmanin after inspecting the fire-damaged synagogue.

France Shooting
A police car parked in front of the synagogue in Rouen, northern France, on Friday (Oleg Cetinic/AP)

He said the man had sought permission to stay in France for medical treatment and, after it was refused, had been placed on a police wanted list for possible return back to his country.

Police officers who deployed to the scene discovered the man on the roof of the building, clutching a metal bar in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other, and smoke rising from the synagogue’s windows, Rouen prosecutor Frederic Teillet said at a brief news conference.

He said the man hurled abuse and threw the metal bar at the police before jumping off the roof and then running at one of the officers with his knife raised.

The officer fired five shots, hitting the man four times, fatally wounding him, the prosecutor said. He said authorities were seeking to verify the man’s identity. The prosecutor took no questions.

Mr Darmanin posted on the social media site X, formerly Twitter, that the armed individual was “neutralised” on Friday morning and thanked officers for their “reactivity and their courage”.

He said the armed individual was “clearly wanting to set fire to the city’s synagogue”.

“In Rouen, national police officers neutralised early this morning an armed individual clearly wanting to set fire to the city’s synagogue. I congratulate them for their reactivity and their courage,” he said.

He described the suspected arson attack as “clearly an antisemitic act”.

Mr Darmanin praised the 25-year-old police officer who shot and killed the man, saying he will be decorated for his “extremely courageous, extremely professional” behaviour.

Rouen Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said the man is thought to have climbed onto a rubbish container and thrown “a sort of Molotov cocktail” inside the synagogue, starting a fire and causing “significant damage”.

“When the Jewish community is attacked, it’s an attack on the national community, an attack on France, an attack on all French citizens,” he said.

“It’s a fright for the whole nation,” he added.

Frederic Desguerre, a regional police union official, told broadcaster BFM-TV that the man hurled the metal bar he was carrying at officers and pulled out a long kitchen knife from one of his sleeves.

“He moved toward them with a determined air, quite violent,” he said.

The synagogue in Rouen
The synagogue in Rouen (Oleg Cetinic/AP)

Photos taken inside the synagogue and seen by The Associated Press showed that walls and the ceiling were charred and blackened.

In Paris, Yonathan Arfi, head of the main French Jewish umbrella group, expressed fury at what he described as the “climate of terror” facing Jews in France.

This week, a Paris memorial honouring people who distinguished themselves by helping to rescue Jews in France during the country’s Nazi occupation in the Second World War was also attacked, defaced with painted blood-red hands.

“It’s unbearable. It’s more and more serious every day. After the antisemitic graffiti we saw in the past few days, antisemitic slogans, antisemitic insults, we now have attempts at setting synagogues on fire,” Mr Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, told the AP.

“Everyone is wondering whether they can live a peaceful life in France as a Jew,” he added.

“There’s a climate of fear because it feels like, anywhere in our country and at any time, an antisemitic attack can take place. It aims at intimidating French Jews and we won’t accept this intimidation. We refuse it, and we will continue to fight against this unbridled antisemitism.”

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said this month that the sharp spike in antisemitic acts in France that followed the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel has continued into this year.

Authorities registered 366 antisemitic acts in the first three months of 2024, a 300% increase over the same period last year, Mr Attal said. More than 1,200 antisemitic acts were reported in the last three months of 2023 — which was three times more than in the whole of 2022, he said.

“We are witnessing an explosion of hatred,” he said.

France has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in western Europe.

By Press Association

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