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Cablegate: French Cemetery Desecrations and Link to Extreme

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

170846Z Aug 04


INFO LOG-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 CIAE-00 INL-00 DODE-00 EB-00
UTED-00 H-00 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 L-00 NSAE-00
NSCE-00 OIC-00 PA-00 GIWI-00 PRS-00 P-00 SCT-00
SP-00 SS-00 STR-00 TEST-00 TRSE-00 FMP-00 R-00
PRM-00 DRL-00 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 /000W
------------------50F4CB 170858Z /38



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: France has seen a rash of hate crimes
resulting in the desecration of nearly 400 Jewish and Muslim
tombs since the beginning of the year. Most recently, 56
Jewish graves were painted with neo-Nazi symbols and
xenophobic slogans in Lyon on August 8, although recent
developments in this case raised questions about the motives
behind an apparently obvious anti-Semitic hate crime. The
previous week, 15 Muslim tombs in Strasbourg were vandalized
with neo-Nazi graffiti. The GOF immediately and forcefully
denounced both desecrations at the highest levels; however,
those affected seem dissatisfied with mere condemnations in
light of continued incidents. These latest acts further
validate what the Minister of Interior in May called "a
resurgence -- notably among some youths -- of neo-Nazi
ideology fed by hatred and ignorance." End summary.

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2. (U) On the night of August 5, in a military cemetery in
Strasbourg, the graves of 15 Muslim soldiers killed in the
liberation of eastern France were defiled. The tombs were
painted with swastikas, SS signs, and the acronym "HVE
junior," making reference to the neo-Nazi organization known
as the Alsatian Patriotic Association ("Heimattreue
Vereinigung Elsass," in German) which was banned in 1993 for
anti-Semitic crimes. (Note: Five other headstones -- four
Muslim and one Jewish -- were previously desecrated in the
same cemetery in April. End note.) French and foreign media
have begun to highlight the rise of xenophobia and
neo-Nazism, particularly in Alsace, an area that includes
Strasbourg and has historically been passed back and forth
between France and Germany.

3. (U) Also on August 5, an individual identifying himself
as "Phineas" claimed responsibility for an attack in the town
of Villeurbanne, near Lyon, on a person of North African
origin that left the victim hospitalized. During the night
of August 8, three days after the attack in Villeurbanne, 56
graves in a Jewish cemetery in Lyon were scrawled with
swastikas, Celtic crosses, and slogans glorifying Hitler and,
incongruously, proclaiming "resistance to the Islamic
invasion." In addition, the name "Phineas" was painted in
several places and a hatchet found at the cemetery was linked
through DNA analysis to the Villeurbanne attack, leading
police to suspect the two attacks were related.

4. (U) On August 15, a 25 year-old recently unemployed
Frenchman turned himself in to a police commissariat in
Paris, alleging to be the "Phineas" responsible for both
incidents. Claiming that he had been "persecuted," the
suspect indicated that he decided to "react against the
Islamic invasion." The man in custody, recently identified
as Michael Tronchon, stated that after the attack in
Villeurbanne, he desecrated the Jewish graves in Lyon,
including painting the phrase "resistance to the Islamic
invasion," in order to obtain a greater "audience."
According to media accounts, "Phineas" considered the French
extreme right too weak and reportedly decided to act out on
his own, inspired by a documentary on U.S. neo-Nazi groups.
(Note: The name "Phineas," has been associated with
right-wing anti-Semitic and racist violence in the U.S.,
including the deaths of 11 people involved in biracial
relationships between 1970 and 1980 and the 1999 attack on a
Los Angeles Jewish community center. End note.)

5. (U) The GOF reacted quickly to the Lyon and Strasbourg
desecrations. Justice Minister Dominique Perben visited the
Lyon site while President Chirac condemned the "vile
profanation" and Prime Minister Raffarin called the attack
odious. Similarly, Interior Minister de Villepin "condemned
with the greatest resolution" the Strasbourg attack and
Chirac, in an open letter to the head of the Muslim council
in Strasbourg, proclaimed his "absolute determination to
fight this plague." However, this did not appear to appease
leaders of both the Muslim and Jewish communities. According
to the Chief Rabbi of Lyon, Richard Wertschlag, "a crackdown
is needed to make these people realize the consequence of
their acts." Similarly, the rector of the Strasbourg mosque,
Abdellah Boussouf, stated emphatically, "I can no longer be
content now with the condemnations and solidarity pledges of
political rulers. I want results. France's Muslims as a
whole have the feeling they are considered second-class

6. (SBU) Comment: The fact that many of the recent cemetery
desecrations have involved the tombs of soldiers or monuments
in honor of those who died in World War II have led some in
the media to speculate that the attacks may be related to the
60th anniversary of the battles that liberated France from
Nazi occupation. However, the early reports concerning the
suspected perpetrator of the Lyon desecration seems to
indicate that he used the attack on the Jewish cemetery to
gain further attention for his own anti-Islamic agenda.
Before the arrest of "Phineas," Israeli Embassy contacts had

attributed the cemetery desecrations to a rising neo-Nazi
extremist minority, which has added to a general unease in
France's Jewish community (see reftel). Even if it turns out
that the motive in Lyon was actually anti-Islamic, Jewish
anxiety is still justified in light of numerous other
cemetery attacks and, most recently, the August 14 discovery
of graffiti declaring "Death to Jews" on a part of the Notre
Dame Cathedral in Paris. Whether these recent attacks are
part of a larger resurgence in the extreme right -- including
both traditional neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic,
anti-Islamic, racist, and xenophobic elements -- remains to
be seen. For its part, the GOF has attempted in recent
months to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia in a
number of ways, including establishing new educational
curriculum aimed at combating bigotry in school-aged
children, hosting an OSCE conference on the connection
between such crimes and the Internet in June, and announcing
in July the formation of a special Ministry of Interior
project to combat cyberterror. However, it is evident that,
while the GOF is both public and vociferous in its
condemnations of such acts, those who are victims want to see
more in the way of results. End comment.


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