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Anti-Semitic murder of elderly woman triggers calls for Paris protests

Mirielle Knoll escaped a notorious WWII roundup of Paris Jews, in which police herded some 13,000 people into a stadium and shipped them to Auschwitz.
Flowers are left for murder victim Mireille Knoll on the fence surrounding her Paris apartment building on Tuesday.Lionel Bonaventure / AFP - Getty Images

PARIS — French leaders and activists called for people to take to the streets and protest against racism Tuesday, after prosecutors filed preliminary charges of murder with anti-Semitic motives in the death of an elderly Jewish woman.

Mireille Knoll, 85, was killed Friday in her apartment, which was then set on fire, according to a French judicial official.

Two men have been jailed in the case, according to the official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. They were handed preliminary charges of robbery, damaging property, and murder with anti-Semitic motives, he said.

Francis Kalifat, president of the Jewish group CRIF, said Knoll was stabbed 11 times.

Knoll reportedly escaped a notorious World War II roundup of Paris Jews, in which police herded some 13,000 people — including more than 4,000 children — into a stadium and shipped them to the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi German-occupied Poland. Fewer than 100 survived.

Image: Killing of Jewish elderly woman Mireille Knoll
Mireille Knollvia Union of French Jewish Students/EPA

Then aged 9, Knoll fled with her mother to Portugal, returning to France only after the end of the war.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called on "all Parisians" to join a silent march Wednesday in memory of Knoll. Politicians across the political spectrum pledged to attend.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that Knoll's death was a "horrific crime," and reaffirmed his "absolute determination to fight against anti-Semitism."

The CRIF compared the killing to that ofSarah Halimi, 65, who was beaten and thrown from her balcony last April. That murder was reclassified as anti-Semitic last month, and the suspect is in a psychiatric hospital.

France's government presented a plan this month to fight racism and anti-Semitism, focusing on social media and prevention in schools. It also wants to change French law to force internet platforms to detect and remove illegal content.

Image: Mireille Knoll's apartment door
A photo of Mireille Knoll is surrounded by hearts pasted on her apartment's door.Christophe Ena / AP

An annual national count of racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts — most of which involve threats — dipped in 2017 compared with the year before. However, anti-Semitic violence increased by 26 percent, and criminal damage to Jewish places of worship and burial by 22 percent.

France is not the only European country to face an outcry over anti-Semitism in recent days.

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has faced protests amid accusations that anti-Semitism is rife within his Labour Party.