French march against anti-Semitism after elderly woman's death


Paris (AFP)

Mourners were to gather in Paris on Wednesday for a silent march to condemn the gruesome killing of an 85-year-old Jewish woman, the latest of several anti-Semitic attacks that have rattled France's Jewish community.

Mireille Knoll, who escaped a notorious roundup and deportation of Jews from Paris during World War II, was found dead in her bed in her small apartment in eastern Paris last Friday by firefighters called to extinguish a blaze.

Police arrested a neighbour and another suspect who have been charged.

Investigators are working on the theory that Knoll's killers stabbed her, robbed her and set her body on fire because she was a Jew.

"The terrible thing is that one of the attackers told the other: 'She's a Jew, she must have money'," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told parliament on Tuesday.

"There are stereotypes we have to fight."

Several leading politicians including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have said they will attend the march from 1630 GMT, making their way from Place de la Nation to Knoll's home in the city's east.

Parliamentary proceedings will be suspended to allow politicians to join the march, a joint statement from the National Assembly and the presidents of parliamentary groups said.

Notably absent will be officials from the far-right National Front whose presence "is not wanted", said Francis Kalifat of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organisations.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also plans to meet with Knoll's family on Wednesday.

The death of the frail octogenarian -- she was suffering from Parkinson's disease, one of her sons said -- has shocked France's Jewish community, coming a year after an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties was thrown out the window of her Paris flat by a neighbour shouting "Allahu Akhbar" (God is greatest).

A judge confirmed just last month that the April 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi was motivated by anti-Semitism, a delay that drew the ire of several Jewish groups.

Halimi's murder reignited the debate over anti-Semitism in working-class districts in France, where Jews have been targeted in several deadly jihadist attacks in recent years.

France's half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to the emergence of a virulent strain of anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods.

In 2012, an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

Three years later, an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed four people in a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.