French police fatally shoot man suspected of planning to set fire to a synagogue

Credit: AP

French police have shot and killed an armed suspect who appeared to be planning to set fire to a synagogue in the Normandy city of Rouen early on Friday.

It looks to be the latest in a string of antisemitic incidents in France, which are increasingly frequent amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.

National police said there were reports of smoke rising from the synagogue on Friday morning.

Officers then found the man on the roof of the building and he was clutching a metal bar in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other, Rouen prosecutor Frédéric 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 a total of five shots, four of which hit the man, and he was fatally wounded.

The prosecutor said the authorities were still working to verify the man's identity.

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.

A police car parked in front of the synagogue in Rouen, France. Credit: AP

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

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on the social media site X that the armed individual was “neutralised” on Friday morning and thanked officers for their “reactivity and their courage.”

The Israel-Hamas conflict has caused a spike in antisemitism and Islamophobia in France, as the country has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in western Europe.

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.

“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, said.

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.

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