Jewish soccer team attacked in Paris suburb

Teens not seriously hurt by assailants at practice

April 13, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS - Members of a Jewish soccer team, practicing in a deserted suburban sports field, were attacked by a gang of hooded and masked youths on Wednesday evening in what authorities are calling the first organized assault on Jews since the recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in France.

The attackers - some shouting "death to Jews," according to the victims - wielded sticks, metal bars and, in one case, a heavy ball used for petanque, a kind of bowling.

Most of the soccer players, ages 16 to 18, were able to run from the field unhurt. But three received minor injuries, and one was taken to a hospital for stitches after being pummeled and hit in the head with the petanque ball.

"The really disturbing part of this is that it was premeditated," said Patrick Gaubert, head of the antiracist group Licra. "Until now, most of the attacks have sprung up on the street. But here, there seems to have been an element of planning. These kids are there every Wednesday night, and the attackers knew it."

Gaubert, who has met with the families of the victims, has filed a complaint with the local public prosecutor to highlight the need, he said, for arrests before the unrest that has gripped this country claims its first victim.

"The authorities must do their jobs before things get out of hand," he said. "People are excited. The parents are very upset, and it's important they feel their concerns are being addressed."

France, which has the largest Muslim and Jewish populations of any country in Europe, has had a sharp increase in anti-Semitic attacks in recent months, especially since Israel began its military offensive in the West Bank.

The attack on the soccer players in Bondy, a working-class suburb north of Paris, has left the community stunned.

Gilbert Roger, Bondy's mayor, said the attackers appeared to have planned things carefully. The attack took place after 9 p.m., when a nearby police post closes. After the assailants took control of the field, they rifled through the belongings of the soccer players, stealing anything of value, including several cellular phones.

"This was an anti-Semitic incident, but they were opportunists, too," Roger said. "They took what they could."

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