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French Police Fatally Shoot a Man Suspected of Setting Fire to a Synagogue

ROUEN, France (AP) — French police shot and killed a man armed with a knife and a metal bar who is suspected of having set fire to a synagogue in the Normandy city of Rouen early on Friday, the latest apparent act in a storm of antisemitism roiling France amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Fire services were alerted early Friday morning to a blaze at the synagogue. Police officers who deployed discovered the man on the roof of the building, clutching the metal bar in one hand and the kitchen knife in the other, and smoke rising from the synagogue’s windows, Rouen prosecutor Frédéric Teillet said at a brief news conference.

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, the prosecutor said. He said authorities are seeking to verify the man’s identity. The prosecutor took no questions.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin posted on the social media site X that the man was “clearly wanting to set fire to the city’s synagogue.”

A police car is parked in front of the synagogue in Rouen, France, Friday, May 17, 2024. French police have shot and killed a man armed with a knife and a metal bar who is suspected of having set fire to a synagogue in the Normandy city of Rouen. (AP Photo/Oleg Cetinic)

He congratulated officers for “their reactivity and their courage.”

Tensions and anger have grown in France over the Israel-Hamas war. Antisemitic acts have surged in the country, which has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in western Europe.

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

“When the Jewish community is attacked, it’s an attack on the national community, an attack on France, an attack on all French citizens,” he said.

“It’s a fright for the whole nation,” he added.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said this month that the sharp spike in antisemitic acts in France that followed the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel has continued into this year.

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.

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By JEFFREY SCHAEFFER and JOHN LEICESTER Associated Press

Leicester reported from Paris.

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