French judges have ordered two men to stand trial for the brutal 2018 killing of an elderly Jewish woman that prompted an outcry over a rise in antisemitic acts.
Mireille Knoll, 85 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was stabbed in her Paris apartment by attackers who later set her body on fire, apparently to hide evidence of their crime.
She had escaped the mass deportation of Jews from France during the second world war by fleeing abroad.
A longtime neighbour, Yacine Mihoub, and associate Alexandre Carrimbacus were arrested on charges of murder and aggravated robbery, though prosecutors did not initially characterise the killing as antisemitic.
Under questioning, Carrimbacus accused Mihoub of shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) while stabbing Knoll and of justifying the attack by saying: “Jews have money.”
The revelations outraged France’s Jewish community, which called it the latest in a series of increasingly brazen antisemitic acts, including violence and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries.
Thousands joined silent marches on the day of Knoll’s funeral, which was attended by the president, Emmanuel Macron.
However, Carrimbacus, an unemployed 21-year-old with a history of robberies as well as psychiatric problems, later retracted his testimony, casting doubt on the murder’s racist motive.
In May, prosecutors nonetheless said the evidence warranted a trial on charges of “murder of a vulnerable person committed because of the victim’s religion”.
Mihoub’s mother was also ordered to stand trial on charges of destroying evidence after investigators said she cleaned the knife used in the attack.
“As I’ve always maintained, Madame Knoll was killed both because she was an old person unable to defend herself, and because she inspired a particular hate because of her Jewish origins,” Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer for the Knoll family, told AFP.
Lawyers for Mihoub said the judges “were unable to resist the pressure of public opinion”, adding: “Except for the statements by Alexandre Carrimbacus, nothing justifies an antisemitic motive in this case.”
An increase in the number of anti-Jewish offences in recent years – authorities reported a 74% jump in 2018 – has caused alarm in France, which is home to both the biggest Jewish and the biggest Muslim communities in Europe.
In December, the government announced the creation of a national police bureau charged with investigating hate crimes, after more than 100 graves were desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France.