PARIS, March 23 (JTA) — France’s Jewish community voiced its sympathy with local Muslims after a crude bomb ripped through a mosque in northeast Paris, slightly injuring its caretaker. CRIF, France’s umbrella group for secular Jewish organizations, said in a statement issued hours after the pre-dawn explosion last week in the Al-Dawsa Mosque that it “vigorously condemns” the attack and “expresses all of its sympathy to the Muslim community aggrieved by this cowardly act.” “CRIF hopes that the guilty” are found “as quickly as possible,” the statement added. The mosque’s caretaker suffered minor hand injuries in the blast. Two other people were treated for shock. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Police suspect that the bomb, a fire extinguisher stuffed with explosives, was planted either by French extremists or by Algerian Islamic fundamentalists. It was the first attack at a Paris mosque since the 1995 shooting death of an imam, or Islamic cleric. The shooting presaged a wave of bombings in France that year by Muslim extremists who accuse the French government of backing Algeria’s military rulers. Eight people died and nearly 200 were injured in the extremists’ subsequent terror campaign. More recently, a bomb planted in an underground train killed four people last December. The explosives were of the type used in the 1995 bombings. The head of the Al-Dawsa Mosque, Kechat Larbi, is known as a liberal who has promoted relations with other religions. Local residents said leaflets had been distributed in the neighborhood in the week before the attack demanding that he take a more traditional stance. While suspecting Islamic extremists, police did not rule out the possibility that the bombing was the work of racists. The extreme right-wing National Front staged several protests in recent months against plans to build an extension to the mosque. The anti-immigrant party advocates expelling France’s 3 million mostly North African immigrants and reserving jobs and welfare benefits for French nationals. Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who won 15 percent of the vote in France’s 1995 presidential elections, has made anti-Semitic remarks in past speeches. In a separate incident, some 20 unidentified protesters at the annual Paris Book Fair ransacked a booth displaying books and pamphlets written by members of the National Front. The attack took place last week as hundreds of members of a movement called “Down With the Front” demonstrated outside the fair. No arrests were made, and no one claimed responsibility for the attack. The party has become the focus of growing protests since it gained control of a fourth southern French town in municipal elections last month. The party said in a statement that the attack was “deliberate and scandalous” and had caused unspecified injuries. Shortly after the attack, fair organizers ordered the stall closed as a security measure. Before it took place, other publishers at the fair had circulated anti-Front petitions, but had stopped short of demanding that the booth be shut down.
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