French teens face preliminary charges in cemetery vandalism

Police officers investigate the site of defaced tombstones at the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, eastern France, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. Hundreds of graves have been vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, in what the president called an "odious and barbaric" anti-Semitic act against French values. The vandalism comes at a time of growing insecurity among French Jews and amid general religious tensions in Europe, after Islamic radicals attacked a kosher market and a satirical newspaper in Paris last month and similar attacks hit Denmark this weekend. (AP Photo/Christian Lutz)

PARIS (AP) – Five teens accused of vandalizing a Jewish cemetery faced preliminary charges Wednesday after the prosecutor said an “anti-Semitic motive” in the destruction seemed clear.

Prosecutor Philippe Vannier described the group as having been overcome by a sort of “collective frenzy” when they desecrated about 250 graves and a Holocaust memorial at the cemetery in Sarre-Union, in France’s Alsace region. He said they called out anti-Semitic epithets and proffered Nazi salutes during the incident.

Vannier said all had admitted a role in the destruction, discovered Sunday, and recommended preliminary charges against them.

The vandalism comes amid deep unease among French Jews after the deadly attacks last month on a kosher market in Paris and last week at a synagogue in Copenhagen. Many have heeded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for a mass immigration, and France’s president vowed at Sarre-Union to protect the community and all who feel under threat because of their religious or ethnic identity.

Following the desecration at Sarre-Union, two other French cemeteries – neither of them Jewish – were also vandalized to a far lesser extent. France’s Interior Ministry said crucifixes were overturned and gravesites disturbed in Tracy-sur-Mer, a tiny town next to the D-Day landing beaches, and in Saint-Beat, in southwest France. Swastikas were found in two other widely separated towns, the ministry said Wednesday.

There have been no arrests in the other cases.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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