Youths charged over terror plot against Jews days after ‘anti-Semitic rape of 12-year-old girl’

Protesters condemn the alleged anti-Semitic gang rape, during a rally in Lyon, central-eastern France, on Wednesday
Protesters condemn the alleged anti-Semitic gang rape, during a rally in Lyon, central-eastern France, on Wednesday - JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP

A teenager and a minor have been charged with planning a terrorist attack on Jewish targets in France, just days after a 12-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped in an anti-Semitic attack.

Jews living in France, which has the largest Jewish community in western Europe and the biggest outside Israel and the United States, say the country has become a frightening place to live since Oct 7.

“It’s terrifying to see that once again in France, in 2024, we can be physically attacked because we are Jewish,” said Caroline Maury, secretary-general of the Jewish collective Nous Vivrons (We Will Live).

“The attack is all the more terrible as the victim was 12 years old. She was a little girl. The suspects were also between 12 and 13, which reinforces the horror of it all. A new threshold has been reached,” she said.

Nous Vivrons was created following the Oct 7 Hamas attack on Israel, in response to a rise in anti-Semitism.

Reports of Tuesday’s alleged violent sexual assault and taunting with anti-Semitic slurs, in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie, had forced some Jews to consider leaving France, Ms Maury said.

Terror charges

Separately, on Friday, prosecutors charged a 19-year-old man and a youth in the Paris region with planning a terror attack on Jewish targets.

The pair became connected on social media and were planning “a violent action notably aiming at Jewish targets,” a judicial source said. The 19-year-old faces changes of terrorist conspiracy and acquisition and possession of arms for a terrorist enterprise. The youth was arrested on June 13.

Investigators have expressed concern over the young age of some suspects detained in recent months for planning attacks.

“This is a necessarily worrying phenomenon,” senior anti-terrorist prosecutor Olivier Christen said at an evidentiary hearing on Wednesday.

Reports of the alleged rape caused protests to erupt on the streets of the capital and other French cities this week ahead of the imminent snap election and the Paris Olympics.

On Tuesday, three boys aged 12 to 13 were charged with rape, making death threats and insulting the victim’s religion.

Death threat

The girl says she was dragged to an isolated location, where she was beaten to the ground, gang-raped and forced to perform a sex act. During the attack, she claims her assailants put a lighter to her cheek and threatened to kill her if she went to the police.

“This very young girl suffered everything. She suffered anti-Semitic insults, humiliation, threats, physical violence, sexual violence,” Oudy Bloch, lawyer for the victim’s family told French news channel BFM TV on Friday.

“She really believed that she was going to die in this abandoned building,” Mr Bloch said, adding that she is doing poorly, physically and psychologically. “She is not doing well, her family is in shock,” said Mr Bloch.

Details have emerged about the accused, one of whom lived with his mother and was described as violent and angry.

According to Le Figaro, one of the alleged attackers was in a “puppy dog relationship” with the victim, who led him to believe she was Muslim as an act of self-preservation.

‘Hatred in his eyes’

The adolescent, who allegedly had photos of a burning Israeli flag on his phone, is said to have become irate upon learning the girl was in fact Jewish.

“He’s a lost kid and very easily influenced. He has a screw loose,” one woman said of her 13-year-old neighbour in a social housing complex. “You can see that he’s uncomfortable in his skin. You see rage and hatred in his eyes.”

Others said the family, led by an “overwhelmed” single mother of four, had a bad reputation in the building for screaming and fighting, and claimed that the accused was abusive and hit his mother.

“These are particularly poorly behaved people who live without worrying about others,” another unnamed resident told Le Figaro. The shocking details of the attack have made anti-Semitism an election issue.

According to government figures, 366 anti-Semitic acts were recorded between January and March this year, marking a 300 per cent increase on the same period the year before.

Attacks rise four-fold

The latest figures continue an alarming trend from 2023, when the Ministry of Interior recorded 1,676 acts of anti-Semitism, nearly four times the number from 2022. A government report warned that last year was marked by “an explosion” in hate crimes after Oct 7, 12 per cent of which took place in schools.

“Anti-Semitism is now everywhere, you can be a victim of it anywhere. There’s no longer a safe place,” Ms Maury added. “Behind these numbers, there are actual lives. It’s not just statistics.”

Since the Israel-Hamas war, Jews living in fear have taken to removing the Mezuzah, a religious symbol, from their doorpost, or their kippah skullcap from their heads, and are changing their names for deliveries, Ms Maury said. Others are considering leaving France altogether and returning to Israel.

“There’s a lot of fear. I think Jews are afraid and it’s legitimate, it’s not a question of paranoia. There’s been a terrifying reality since Oct 7.”