Knife-Wielding Man Who Set Fire to Shul in France Killed by Police

By Hamodia Staff

The damaged interior of the shul.

A Muslim man threw a Molotov cocktail into a shul in France, damaging the shul’s interior, then lunged police with a knife at a police officer, who shot and killed him.

Firefighters were alerted early Friday morning to a blaze at the shul in the Normandy city of Rouen. Police officers who were sent to the scene discovered the 29-year-old man on the roof of the building, clutching a metal bar in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other, and smoke rising from the shul’s windows, Rouen prosecutor Frédéric Teillet said.

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 five shots, hitting the man four times, fatally wounding him.

Rouen Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said that the man is thought to have climbed onto a trash container and thrown “a sort of Molotov cocktail” inside the shul, starting the fire.

Rabbi Shmuel Lubecki, rav of the shul and Chabad shliach to Rouen, told Hamodia that while “the guy threw the Molotov cocktail close to the aron kodesh,” which was significantly damaged, Baruch Hashem the sifrei Torah were unharmed.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the suspect was an Algerian national who wasn’t flagged as a suspected extremist. The man had sought permission to stay in France for medical treatment and, after it was refused, had been placed on a police wanted list for possible return back to his country.

Darmanin praised the 25-year-old police officer who shot and killed the suspect, saying he “was right” to open fire when the man rushed at him with a knife. The minister said the officer will be decorated for his “extremely courageous, extremely professional” behavior. He described the attack as “clearly an antisemitic act.”

Rabbi Lubecki said the shul sustained extensive damage that will take months to repair. Community members said they wish to daven in the shul this Friday night, but for the rest of Shabbos they will use Rabbi Lubecki’s Chabad House, which typically does not have prayer services. He said he doesn’t know yet where the community will hold prayer services until the shul is repaired, and that the shul will need to raise funds as not all damages will be covered by insurance.

“When the Jewish community is attacked, it’s an attack on the national community, an attack on France, an attack on all French citizens,” Mayer-Rossignol said. “It’s a fright for the whole nation.”

According to Rabbi Lubecki, there are 150-200 Jews in Rouen, mostly secular; the shul has minyanim only on Shabbos. He said there are many Muslims in Rouen, “like everywhere else in France,” but the Jewish community there has not experienced significant antisemitism.

“Occasionally people yell antisemitic things, but we don’t have attacks,” he said. “Fifteen years ago someone punched me in the face. That’s the last attack I remember happening here.”

France, as much of the world, has seen rising antisemitism in recent years, and a sharp spike since October 7th, 2023. France has which 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. This week, a Paris memorial honoring people who distinguished themselves by helping to rescue Jews in France during the country’s Nazi occupation in World War II was also attacked, defaced with painted blood-red hands, a symbol used by pro-Palestinian protestors.

“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,” Arfi, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, told the AP.

“Everyone is wondering whether they can live a peaceful life in France as a Jew,” he added. “There’s a climate of fear because it feels like, anywhere in our country and at any time, an antisemitic attack can take place. It aims at intimidating French Jews and we won’t accept this intimidation. We refuse it, and we will continue to fight against this unbridled antisemitism.”

Authorities registered 366 antisemitic acts in the first three months of 2024, a 300% increase over the same period last year, 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.

“We are witnessing an explosion of hatred,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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