PARIS (AFP) – Two people have been charged with the murder of an 85-year-old French Jewish woman, who was stabbed and whose body was then set alight in a crime being treated as anti-Semitic, a judicial source said Tuesday.
Mireille Knoll, who escaped a mass roundup of Jews in Paris during World War II, was found dead in her apartment in eastern Paris on Friday by firefighters called to extinguish a blaze.
An autopsy showed she had been stabbed several times before a fire was started in the apartment. The two suspects, who were taken into custody, have also been charged with aggravated robbery, the source said.
The death of the frail octogenarian described by neighbours as very quiet has shocked the 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).
On Monday, investigators said they believed Knoll’s killing was related to her religion after initially saying they were “not excluding any hypothesis”. They also said the suspects faced charges of aggravated robbery.
One of the suspects is a neighbour in his twenties whom she knew well and who had visited her that day, Knoll’s son, who did not wish to be named, told AFP.
A police source said the suspect had convictions for rape and sexual assault.
The second suspect, aged 21, has a history of violent robbery.
He was in the apartment building on the day of Knoll’s death and his name was given to police by the first suspect, a police source said.
Reacting on Twitter President Emmanuel Macron condemned the “dreadful” killing and reiterated his determination to fighting anti-Semitism.
– Escaped deportation –
Knoll managed to escape the notorious 1942 roundup of more than 13,000 Jews in Paris by fleeing with her mother to Portugal when she was 10.
After the war she returned to the French capital and married a Holocaust survivor, who died in the early 2000s.
The CRIF umbrella grouping of French Jewish organisations on Monday urged “the fullest transparency” by the authorities investigating Knoll’s murder “so that the motive of this barbarous crime is known as quickly as possible.”
Last month, a judge confirmed that the April 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, the woman who was thrown out of her window, was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Jewish groups had reacted angrily to the investigators’ delay in declaring that killing an anti-Semitic act.
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 emigrations to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to the emergence of a virulent strain of anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods.
In 2011, an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher and a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Four 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.