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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I don't know what to make of this

French woman tells police she made up anti-Semitic attack
A French woman who claimed last week she had been the victim of a vicious anti-Semitic attack admitted to police that she had made up the entire incident, and was detained for falsely reporting a crime.

After being questioned for a second time by investigators about the alleged incident on July 9, which shocked France and shed a negative light on government efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism, the woman admitted she had lied.

The 23-year-old had initially told police that a gang of six youths had accosted her on a Paris suburban train, slashing her clothes and drawing swastikas on her stomach after mistaking her for a Jew.

On Tuesday, she first changed her story to say that she and her 13-month-old child had been assaulted outside the train, but finally admitted that she had totally invented the attack, police said.

The woman -- identified in the French press as Marie-Leonie L. -- said she had drawn the swastikas on her own stomach with the help of her boyfriend, according to police.

The woman has been placed in preventive detention for falsely reporting a crime, state prosecutor Xavier Salvat told AFP. She could face up to six months in prison and a 7,500-euro (9,200-dollar) fine if tried and convicted.

Her boyfriend has also been detained, police said.

Doubts had mounted Tuesday over the woman's claim after no one had come forward to corroborate her story, despite the fact that she said some 20 people had witnessed the alleged incident.

"There are elements that have cast a large shadow of doubt on her statements," Paris police chief Jean-Paul Proust said earlier.

President Jacques Chirac, who had strongly condemned the alleged incident, was sure to face questions about the case on Wednesday, when he was to participate in his traditional Bastille Day live televised interview.

Last week, Chirac called for perpetrators of anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic acts to face tough punishment, and has excluded racist crimes from his annual July 14 clemency for prisoners.

"The explosion in the number of racist and anti-Semitic acts committed in our country these past few years is a reality that we must fight," government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said Tuesday.

The number of such incidents recorded in France -- home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities -- soared in the first half of the year, according to interior ministry figures.

The woman had testified that her alleged attackers -- whom she described as black and Arab North Africans -- believed her to be Jewish after discovering that she had once lived in the French capital's upmarket 16th district.

"Only Jews live in the 16th district," one of the men was quoted as saying when the group purportedly assaulted the woman, swiped her bag and tipped over the baby carriage with her baby inside.

But investigators said closed-circuit cameras at the station north of Paris where the woman said the attackers had left the train did not show the six youths.

Railway personnel at the ticket office where the woman said she reported the affair could remember nothing about it, investigators said.

A 28-year-old man told AFP he had seen the woman on the platform of the station where she said she boarded the train before the attack.

He said her clothes were already torn and she was crying, adding: "I asked her if she wanted help and she said no."

A police source told AFP on Tuesday that the woman had filed six prior complaints in recent years -- one for theft and one for sexual assault -- but that the alleged criminals had never been found.

Mouloud Aounit, president of the Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples (MRAP), demanded a public apology over the incident.

"We can't fight against one racism by making statements that advocate another kind of racism," he said.

I don't know what to make of this. It's possible she was or felt threatened, or maybe it really was a hoax. Crazy, either way.