On 25 March, French newspaper Le Parisien reported that a man was taken into police custody, after the death in a fire of an 85-year-old woman. Earlier, Le Parisien had reported on a tragic fire in an apartment in Paris’ XIth Arrondissement along theAvenue Philippe-Auguste. Fire-fighters discovered the body of the inhabitant, Mireille Knoll, in the course of fighting the fire. Technicians of the central laboratory of Police Headquarters deemed the fire suspicious, and combed the scene for clues. A suicide-thesis was quickly discarded and the Public Prosecutor sent for.

According to a source with the police, the victim had made a complaint against a local resident, who had threatened to burn her. He had been seen in her apartment. Enough reason, to get the Criminal Investigation Division (police judiciaire; pj) involved. Saturday, police placed a 29-year-old suspect in custody. Le Parisien claims a source close to the investigation confided that the first autopsy revealed stab wounds on the body of the victim. According to an inquiry by Bureau National de Vigilance Vontre les Actes Antisémites, Knoll was stabbed 11 times, and her house had been set fire to in five places.

In responding to the case on Facebook, Meyer Habib, MP for French centre-right UDI penned an emotional accusation:

“They have given me a multitude of details, which I cannot make public at this stage. Mireille Knoll was able to escape the [Nazi’s] Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, because of her mother’s Brasilian passport in 1942, she succumbed to the hatred and barbarism of an Islamist, stabbed 11 times, in the family’s appartement, on the Avenue Philippe Auguste (…).
This is the same barbarism that kills Jewish children in Toulouse, slaughters a priest in his church in Saint-Etienne-de-Rouvray or a police officer in Trèbes.

Habib’s assertion that the perpetrator was indeed an “Islamist” can however not be verified at this stage, as he does not list who has given him his “multitude of details“. He did, however, in an earlier Facebook post reveal that one of Knoll’s sons told him that the suspect who is now in custody is a:

“35-year-old Muslim neighbour, a sex offender, whom she had known since he was a child.”

Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo too conveyed her grief, and emphasises that the victim was a Holocaust survivor and that she wants the investigation into the crime to be as thorough as possible.

In a press release, the Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ) called for the investigation to concentrate on the ‘anti-Semitic trail’:

The investigation notes elements that are not characteristic of anti-Semitism, but it cannot be disregarded and should therefore be investigated further. [Jewish community leaders] must maintain their pressure on the authorities, on all levels, to quickly uncover the truth behind this terrible affair and the exact circumstances under which it took place. We are totally committed to the investigation, until all [elements of the case are] brought to light.

According to Le Parisien, the motive of the murder is as yet unknown. When asked on Sunday, the Paris Public Prosecutor said it “did not rule out any hypothesis.

The crime is, of course, highly reminiscent of the murder of Jewish 66-year-old dr. Sarah Halimi, who was beaten and thrown from a balcony in April 2017 by a Malian immigrant who shouted “Allah Akhbar” and “I’ve killed the demon” after his deeds. It took almost a year before and an appeal before the court decided this was an anti-semitic hate crime, calling it “not incompatible with antisemitic dimensions“.