updated 8/17/2004 12:32:49 AM ET 2004-08-17T04:32:49

An unemployed man was arrested Monday in connection with the desecration of a Jewish cemetery earlier this month and an attack on a Muslim, judicial officials said.

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

Investigators linked him to the ax attack five days earlier on a man in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne. The victim was seriously injured.

The suspect was placed under investigation — a step short of being charged — for “attempted aggravated murder of a racist character” and “willful aggravated degradation in a religious place.”

Under a tough new anti-racism law, passed in March, the suspect, if convicted, risks life in prison.

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

However, the current case, closely followed by the French media, has bizarre twists because both Muslims and Jews were allegedly targeted by a single person.

The suspect in question was also “seeking recognition,” according to the prosecutor. He described the suspect as a “very solitary” man who did not appear to have links to far-right groups.

“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.

When he turned himself in, he had an ax in his possession.

Anti-Semitic graffiti was found scrawled on about 60 tombstones in Lyon’s La Mouche cemetery, raising new concerns about anti-Semitic attacks in France.

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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