French police kill man suspected of setting fire to synagogue in Rouen

Local prosecutor says two investigations into arson attempt and death of unidentified suspect are under way.

Police officers work after police shot dead an armed man earlier who set fire to the city's synagogue in Rouen, France
Police officers on the scene of an arson attempt at a synagogue in Rouen, France, after an officer shot dead an armed suspect, on May 17 [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

Police in France have shot dead an armed man who was suspected of setting fire to a synagogue in the northern city of Rouen, the authorities said.

On Friday, police intervened at about 6:45am (04:45 GMT) after smoke was reported at the synagogue. A man at the scene, reportedly carrying a knife and a crowbar, threatened a police officer, who then “used his weapon”, said the Rouen prosecutor.

The man was not immediately identified.

Speaking to reporters in Rouen, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the individual was “particularly dangerous” and “particularly violent”.

“I don’t know the exact motives of this individual. The investigation will tell,” said Darmanin, stressing that the Interior Ministry is “doing all it can” to protect the Jewish community.

The man was an Algerian national whose application for a residency permit in France for health treatment had been rejected by the authorities, the minister also said.


Two investigations were under way, the first into the arson attack on a place of worship and “intentional violence” against police, and the second into the death of the man, according to the prosecutor.

France synagogue
Police work at the scene after officers shot dead an armed man who was accused of setting fire to a synagogue in Rouen, France, on May 17 [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

The National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office said that it was currently assessing whether it would take up the case, the AFP news agency reported.

Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, the mayor of Rouen, said the attack on the synagogue did not just affect worshippers, but that the entire city was “bruised and in shock”.

There were no other victims, he said, posting on X from the scene.

“Tonight is the beginning of the Sabbath and it’s important to light the candles to show that we are not afraid,” Rouen’s chief Rabbi Chmouel Lubecki told news network BFMTV.

The synagogue is in the historic centre of Rouen, the main city of France’s northern region of Normandy that lies on the River Seine.

A resident, Elias Morisse, who lives opposite the synagogue, said he heard gunshots and explosions.

“I decided to open the shutters of my apartment, and indeed I saw smoke coming from the synagogue, the police, the firefighters and in the street a body,” Morisse said.

High alert

France has the largest Jewish community of any country after Israel and the United States, as well as Europe’s largest Muslim community.

Tensions ramped up after the start of Israel’s war in Gaza on October 7 following a Hamas-led attack in southern Israel.

Red graffiti was painted onto France’s Holocaust Memorial earlier this week, prompting anger including from President Emmanuel Macron who condemned “odious anti-Semitism”.

The synagogue in Rouen after an attack
The synagogue is in the historic centre of Rouen, the main city in France’s Normandy region [Oleg Cetinic/AP Photo]

“Attempting to burn a synagogue is an attempt to intimidate all Jews,” Yonathan Arfi, the president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF), wrote on X.

Once again, there is an attempt to impose a climate of terror on the Jews of our country. Combatting anti-Semitism means defending the Republic.”

In 2016, Rouen was rocked by an attack later claimed by ISIS (ISIL) when a priest was killed with a knife during service in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in the southern part of Rouen’s urban agglomeration.

France hosts the Summer Olympic Games in two months and recently raised its alert status to the highest level against the current geopolitical backdrop.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies