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.
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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