Published January 14, 2015
Arsonists destroyed a Jewish community center in eastern Paris in a pre-dawn attack Sunday and left behind anti-Semitic graffiti (search), police said.
No one was hurt as flames tore through the center located on the first floor of a six-story building. The center, which served as a meeting place and cafeteria for the elderly and disadvantaged, was gutted, rescue officials said.
Firefighters were called to the scene at about 3:30 a.m. and extinguished the flames by early morning.
Authorities immediately suspected the fire was set deliberately. Inside the building, investigators found anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas scrawled in red marker. One message read, "Without the Jews, the world is happy," while another said, "Jews get out."
Visiting the site, rabbi Claude Zaffran (search) said he was "deeply pained and distraught."
"We're very worried," he told The Associated Press. "The justice system must do all that's necessary so that there are convictions and real, effective sanctions."
France has suffered a long wave of anti-Semitic violence since 2000, coinciding with worsening tensions in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians.
Some of the violence has been blamed on young French Muslims, although the Muslim community itself is also a frequent target of racist attacks. France has the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe.
French President Jacques Chirac (search) condemned the center's destruction and said the government was "determined to find the perpetrators of this unacceptable act so that they can be tried and convicted with the greatest severity" that the law allows.
The case has been referred to Paris criminal investigators, the Paris Police Department said.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and Paris Police Chief Jean-Paul Proust all visited the site, on a winding street lined with shops.
Proust noted that the fire could have been deadly, while Raffarin promised that the arsonists would receive tough punishments.
"I came here today to say that France cannot accept a trivialization of anti-Semitism," the prime minister said.