France: Anti-Semitism Is 'A Reality That We Must Combat'

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PARIS - A French woman who claimed she suffered an anti-Semitic attack that shocked France told police on Tuesday she made up the incident, a judicial source said.

The 23-year-old woman and her male companion were detained after police called them in to discuss the alleged attack, in which she said six knife-wielding youths of Arab and African origin had daubed swastikas on her stomach on a Paris train.

"She admitted to inventing the whole thing," the judicial source said.

The woman, identified only as Marie L., had alleged the attackers wrongly thought she was a Jew and also toppled a stroller carrying her 13-month-old baby.

When news of Friday's alleged attack emerged, Chirac and other leading French politicians condemned it.

But anti-racism group Mrap criticised officials for being too quick to blame youths of Arab and African origin.

"Mrap strongly condemns the irresponsible comments of people who took advantage of this invention to once more use anti-Semitism as a tool against a specific group of people," it said in a statement.

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told RTL radio a rising trend of anti-Semitic attacks was "a genuine evil" in France, even if the woman's case might not be real.

Whether the woman's account proved true or not, he said, has little bearing on France's need to act against growing intolerance toward minorities and the violence that stems from it.

"The explosion of the number of racist and anti-Semitic acts committed in our country in the last few years is a reality that we must combat," Cope said.

The Interior Ministry released figures last week showing that hate crimes had spiked in the first half of the year. There were 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004 - nearly as many as in all of last year, 593.

Racist attacks were up too: There were 95 attacks and 161 threats through June, compared to 232 total such crimes reported in 2003.

The woman initially told police she was robbed by a gang of six young men, who cut open her shirt with knives, drew swastikas on her body after mistaking her for a Jew and overturned her stroller causing her infant to tumble out. Neither she nor the child were seriously hurt.

The woman also said that none of some 20 witnesses came to her rescue.

Newspapers gave the story front-page prominence Monday with headlines like "The Train of Hate."

On Tuesday, front pages were universally skeptical. "Questions on an attack," blared Liberation, which said the woman's account was full of "gray areas" and "contradictions."

Surveillance cameras at the station where the culprits reportedly left the train showed no young men running from the scene, and none of the alleged 20 witnesses have come forward despite repeated calls from officials and promises of anonymity.

The daily newspaper Le Figaro quoted an unidentified source close to the woman as saying she was a "mythomaniac."