Lyon graves vandal says he was inspired by neo-Nazis in U.S.

LYON – An unemployed graphic artist who acknowledged spray-painting swastikas on Jewish gravestones in southeast France told investigators he was inspired by a TV documentary on American neo-Nazi groups, officials said yesterday.

The 24-year-old, identified only as Michael, turned himself in to Paris police Sunday and admitted to desecrating the graves at a cemetery in Lyon on August 9, state prosecutor Xavier Richaud said.

The suspect, whom investigators had dubbed “Phineas” because that name had been scrawled at the cemetery, was a “very solitary” man who did not appear to have links to far-right groups, Richaud said.

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Under police questioning, the suspect explained he had come across the name while watching a program on American neo-Nazi groups – including one called The Phineas Priesthood, officials said.

“He is clearly in a racist mind-set, inspired by a hatred of Arabs,” Richaud said at a news conference in Lyon.

Authorities said it appeared the suspect worked alone and wanted to be caught by police. A black sweat shirt found at the cemetery had contained traces of DNA that matched the suspect, Richaud said.

The suspect was also under investigation for allegedly attacking a North African man with an ax on August 5.

Anti-Semitic graffiti was found scrawled on about 60 tombstones in Lyon’s La Mouche cemetery earlier this month. Similar graffiti also covered a World War II monument to Jewish soldiers at the entrance to the cemetery.

France, which has Western Europe’s largest populations of Jews and Muslims, has experienced a recent upsurge in anti-Semitic and anti-Arab violence.

In the past three months, tombs at two Jewish cemeteries in the northeastern Alsace region were desecrated, and on Saturday, the words “death to Jews” and a swastika were found scrawled on a low wall on the grounds of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. No arrests have been made.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Associated Presss, USA
Aug. 17, 2004

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