Venezuela Detains 11 After Synagogue Attacks

Authorities arrested 11 people, including seven police officers, suspected of carrying out an attack on a Caracas synagogue that raised concerns of rising of anti-Semitism in Venezuela, officials said Sunday.

The Attorney General's Office said an agent of the federally controlled investigative police force and one of the synagogue's security guards were among the 11 suspects arrested during raids over the weekend. The suspects are scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

Elias Farache, president of the Venezuelan-Israelite Association, applauded Venezuelan authorities for responding rapidly.

"We thank the authorities for the quick detention of the suspects," he said in a telephone interview. "We also want to thank all of those who showed their solidarity with us."

On Jan. 30, about 15 people overpowered two security guards at the Tiferet Israel Synagogue, shattering religious objects and spray-painting "Jews, get out" on the walls. The assailants also stole a computer database with names and addresses.

President Hugo Chavez has condemned the attack and promised representatives of Venezuela's 15,000-member Jewish community that those responsible would be brought to justice.

But Venezuela's Jewish leaders and international observers say the socialist president's harsh criticism of the Israeli government has inspired a growing list of hate crimes.

Venezuelan Jews also expressed concern after Chavez initially suggested the synagogue attack might have been carried out by government opponents eager to portray his government as anti-Semitic, then warned Jews "not to allow themselves to be used" by his opponents.

In the past, Chavez's enthusiastic support of Iran and other enemies of Israel has done little to threaten the coexistence of Jews in Venezuela, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.