(PARIS) — Officials in France said they are investigating a possible Russian link to a spate of potentially antisemitic graffiti that appeared on buildings in Paris at the end of last month.
Prosecutors in the French capital said in a statement Tuesday that it was possible that the potential hate crime was “carried out at the request of a person living abroad.” The suspects spoke Russian, prosecutors said.
The investigation is focused on dozens of blue Stars of David that were graffitied onto buildings in Paris and its suburbs.
When the stars first appeared, they were widely seen as a potential antisemitic hate crime. Several government officials, including the interior minister, said the graffiti was antisemitic. Prosecutors said they were undertaking “an investigation into the offense of degradation aggravated by the fact that it was committed because of origin or religion.”
Stars of David, an important Jewish symbol, were used by the authorities in Nazi Germany during WWII to mark homes and businesses belonging to Jews, who were also forced to wear a yellow Star of David on their outer clothing. It was a tool of persecution that aided the Nazi’s genocidal policies.
Hamas’ terror attack on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent siege and invasion of Gaza raised fears of intercommunal unrest in France, which has both the largest Muslim and Jewish communities of any European nation.
There has been a rise in antisemitic acts in France since Oct. 7, according to France’s Interior Ministry, with French President Macron appealing to people to “stay united.”
However, French investigators are now considering whether the painting of the blue Stars of David on buildings in late October could have been directed from abroad as part of an operation to increase social tensions in France.
French public radio station France Info first reported a possible Russian link, quoting “a source close to the investigation” and reporting that prosecutors were considering whether the graffiti might be part of a “destabilization operation originating from Russia.”
The first known attempt to paint the blue stars onto buildings happened on the night of Oct. 27, according to prosecutors.
A couple from Moldova, a former Soviet republic where Russia still has considerable influence, were subsequently arrested.
The couple later told police “they had acted on the request of a third person and in return for money” — a statement that prosecutors said was “backed-up by a conversation in Russian on their telephone.”
Four days later, a further sixty 60 blue Stars of David were painted on random on buildings in central Paris and in the suburbs of the French capital, prosecutors said.
Investigators said surveillance camera video shows another woman and a man painting the stars with another person at the scene then photographing their vandalism.
The couple suspected of spraying the symbols onto buildings on that night left France after Nov. 6, when investigations by multiple prosecutors were folded into the Paris investigation, said prosecutors.
According to phone records reviewed by French police as part of the investigation, there is “reason to believe” the two couples who allegedly graffitied blue stars onto buildings on two separate nights “were in contact with the same third person” who possibly directed them to carry out the acts, according to the statement from the Paris prosecutor.
If someone responsible for the graffiti in Paris at the end of last month were to be convicted of a hate crime, they could face a four-year jail term and a 30,000 euro fine, or roughly $32,000.
Prosecutors said they couldn’t rule out that the blue Stars of David, which were graffitied using stencils, were “carried out at the explicit request of someone living abroad.”
Most of France’s main political parties, including those on the far right, have announced they will hold a march against antisemitism next Sunday, Nov. 12.
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