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Woman admits train attack was fabricated

/ Source: The Associated Press

Just days after claiming to having been the victim of a cruel anti-Semitic attack that stunned France, a young woman confessed that she fabricated the story, authorities said Tuesday.

The woman had claimed that she was robbed on a suburban train Friday by a knife-wielding gang who mistook her for a Jew and scrawled swastikas on her body. Police could find no clues or witnesses, and they took the woman in for questioning Tuesday.

There was no immediate explanation of the woman’s motives for having made up the story.

‘The Train of Hate’
Reports of the attack in a suburban Paris train outraged France, drawing fierce condemnation from politicians and Jewish groups.

The woman told police that her young attackers were of North African and African origin and that none of 20 witnesses in the train car came to her rescue. She said the gang robbed her and turned over a stroller holding her infant, causing the baby to tumble to the floor.

Newspapers gave the story front-page prominence Monday with headlines like “The Train of Hate.”

But by Tuesday, front pages had turned skeptical. “Questions on an attack,” said Liberation, which reported that the woman’s account was full of “gray areas” and “contradictions.”

Surveillance cameras at the station where the gang reportedly left the train showed no young men running from the scene, and none of the alleged 20 witnesses had come forward despite repeated calls from officials and promises of anonymity.

Both France-Info radio and the television station LCI reported that the young woman had filed several complaints about violence and aggression in the past that never panned out. Neither provided sources, but LCI said she had filed six such complaints. Justice Minister Dominique Perben urged the public to be patient and wait for investigators to reach a conclusion.

“All the elements are being verified and screened,” he said earlier Tuesday. “It is, therefore, essential to wait for this work to be finished before making up our minds one way or the other.”

Anti-Semitism ‘a reality’
In a radio interview Tuesday morning, a spokesman for the government, Jean-Francois Cope, said that whether the woman’s account proved true or not had little bearing on France’s need to stem hate crimes.

“The explosion of the number of racist and anti-Semitic acts committed in our country in the last few years is a reality that we must combat,” Cope told RTL radio.

The Interior Ministry released figures last week showing that hate crimes had spiked in the first half of the year. There were 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004, nearly as many as in all of last year, 593.

Racist attacks were up, too: There were 95 attacks and 161 threats through June, compared to 232 total such crimes reported in 2003.