Two suspects arrested over arson attack against Corfu synagogue

21 April 2011

Greek police have arrested two men suspected of carrying out an arson attack against the synagogue on the island of Corfu on the first day of the Passover holiday. The two are allegedly also involved in vandalizing the local Jewish community's offices. Unknown assailants broke into the synagogue in the old town of the island's capital after 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning by forcing open a back door. They made a pile of books and documents in front of the bimah and set them ablaze. "The door was violated and two empty gasoline canisters were found in the synagogue," said a police officer, adding: "At least 30 books were damaged in the blaze."

Greek security forces are also examining the connection between the two arrested suspects and terror groups. The search for additional suspects, who most likely entered Greece recently, continues.

Meanwhile, members of the Jewish community of Corfu gathered at their synagogue around the pile of ashen prayer books. “It’s very difficult for us,” said Rabbi Shlomo Naftali, an Israeli rabbi who was flown over to Greece to conduct Passover ceremonies. The burned prayer books were later buried on the Jewish cemetery. 

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) strongly condemned the arson attack. "This is another shocking reminder for Jews world-wide that our houses of prayer are still targets of extremists, fanatics and terrorists," said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. He assured the Greek Jewish community of the WJC's full support and called on the Greek authorities to quickly bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece expressed its repugnance over the attack. In a statement, it said: “Those who burned the Jewish books today will be the future criminals who will turn against the principals of democracy and against the values of our civilized society. The citizens and the society of Corfu have the moral obligation to protect their city’s history and heritage.”

The Greek government also condemned the attack: “The break-in and the destruction of ceremonial books in the Jewish Synagogue of Corfu is an immoral and appalling act,” spokesman George Petalotis said in a statement, adding that anti-Semitism was “incompatible with Greek culture.”

In February last year, police arrested three men suspected of setting fire twice to a medieval synagogue on the island of Crete. The roof of the building and thousands of books and computers were damaged. About 150 Jews live on Corfu. The latest attack has alarmed Greece's 8,000-strong community, which was decimated after the Nazis deported Jews to the death camps.

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