PARIS — French police were questioning five teenagers Monday in connection with hundreds of Jewish gravestones that were knocked over and defaced with swastikas and Nazi slogans.
The teens, all males aged 15-17, were taken into custody after one of them turned himself in to the police station and confessed, the office of local Prosecutor Philippe Vannnier told NBC News via telephone on Monday.
Some 300 tombs were desecrated in the Jewish cemetery in the eastern town of Sarre-Union on Sunday. President Francois Hollande labelled the incident "odious and barbaric," and Prime Minister Manuel Valls said via his Twitter feed that the "vile, anti-Semitic act" was "an insult to memory."
The teenagers' time in custody had been extended by one day so officials could "understand the motivation behind the act before deciding on which charges will be filed," an official at Vannnier's office said.
The prosecutor's office said that under French law the teenagers could face up to seven years in prison for "desecration of graves" and "degradation committed as a group."
The incident came a day after a shooting at a synagogue in Denmark left one dead and two police officers wounded. A kosher supermarket was the scene of a deadly shooting during three days of attacks in and around Paris last month.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, NBC News revealed the number of French Jews emigrating to Israel had jumped dramatically in recent years thanks to an uptick in perceived anti-Semitism. Police patrols have also been boosted in Jewish neighborhoods across the English Channel in London.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would welcome any European Jews who chose to emigrate in the face of anti-Semitic violence.
- Nancy Ing and Alexander Smith
Alexander Smith reported from London.