Uncertainty developed in Marseilles today-over whether the bomb explosion near the city’s main synagogue early yesterday morning, in which two men were killed, was indeed an intended anti-Semitic assault by neo-Nazis or other terrorists, after police identified the victims as known criminals. Nevertheless, dozens of police and security squads have been flown to Marseilles from all over France to guard the city’s Jewish institutions.
The two men, burned alive when the bomb detonated in their car as they tried to evade police, were identified today as Georges Sichat and Gerard Scotti. Police said Sichat had just been released after serving nine years in a maximum security prison for armed robbery. His companion also had a long criminal record. This raised the possibility that the bombing was a gangland attack aimed at a nightclub near the synagogue.
The police said that four suspects — two men and two women — arrested for questioning in connection with the bombing were apparently involved in criminal activities. A fifth suspect, Jean-Claude Kraft, a 30-year-old bartender, also has a criminal record. Kraft was arrested at his home in Avignon and brought to Marseilles after police found his identity card on one of the dead men. Kraft claimed he lost the card several weeks ago but neglected to inform the police.
The four suspects under interrogation by homicide and anti-terrorist squads have not been identified by the police. Radio reports said they have no record of political activity and belong to “a marginal sector of society,” meaning, apparently, the underworld. Le Monde reported today that “it is no longer certain” that the synagogue was the target of the bomb which exploded about 300 yards from that building and an adjacent Jewish community center. But the possibility cannot be ruled out, Le Monde added.
Mayor Gaston Defferre of Marseilles, who faces a tough contest in the city’s municipal elections next Sunday, told a press conference yesterday that the first available clues pointed “to a neo-Nazi attack against the synagogue.” He promised the city’s 100,000 Jews that he would do everything in his power to ensure their safety.
Defferre’s election rival, Jean-Claude Gaudin, said today, “I condemn all terrorist attacks and even stronger, those of an anti-Semitic nature.” He added, “Unfortunately, I do not have all the facts concerning the case as the Minister of Interior (Defferre) has.”
Some residents of Marseilles, including local Jews, suspect that the bomb was in fact intended for the nightclub. Marseilles, France’s second largest city, has a reputation for racketeering and gang warfare. Some people believe the bomb explosion near the synagogue was a coincidence.
The police believed originally that the two men in the car, carrying a powerful bomb with more than two pounds of high explosives, intended to attack the synagogue. They slowed down in front of the building but sped away after seeing a strong police patrol nearby. The car turned into a narrow alley where it was blocked by a police car. According to the initial police account the two men were unable to defuse the bomb which had already been set to detonate.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.