Anti-Semitic Attacks Rattle France

No organized element appears to be behind the many anti-Semitic attacks in France recently, police said Tuesday, as 10 of 39 people questioned in the incidents remain in custody.

Alain Tourre, a police spokesman at the Interior Ministry, said many of the suspects have police records for other crimes, including vandalism, theft, violence or selling drugs.

They do not appear to be ``organized or politicized, nor are they members of anti-Zionist groups,'' he said Tuesday. Some are minors.

The attacks have coincided with an escalation in Middle East violence and have heightened tension between French Jews and the country's large Muslim community.

Synagogues, schools and cemeteries around the country have been targeted, often with firebombs. In the most serious case, a Marseille synagogue was burned to the ground on March 31.

On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac condemned the attacks but said he doesn't believe his country is anti-Semitic.

``It's an indisputable fact that there have been anti-Semitic acts, alas, and they must be prevented, punished and severely condemned,'' the president told Frequence Juive, a Jewish radio station. ``But I don't believe that the French people are becoming anti-Semitic.''

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in France on Sunday to protest the anti-Jewish violence. A march in Paris drew more than 50,000 people, and police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of pro-Israel militants who fought with up to 500 counter-demonstrators.