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Arsonist targets Jewish homes in London


LONDON, July 9 (JTA) — Police here are seeking a woman they believe is connected with a series of arson attacks on a fervently Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.

Stamford Hill — home to what is believed to be the world’s largest Chasidic community outside Israel and New York — has been the scene of six attacks in the past five weeks.

No one has been injured, but one family of 13, including six children, had to flee their house when it filled with smoke.

The attacks are being treated as a racial crime because all the targets have been Jewish homes, according to a police spokeswoman.

All six attacks have been at private houses, and all but one have taken place between midnight and 6:30 a.m.

“These attacks could have been deadly, as they occurred in the middle of the night,” a Jewish community security official told JTA.

Last Friday, police released a closed circuit television image of a person they are seeking in connection with the attacks. The suspect is an Afro-Caribbean woman, about 35 years old.

The picture — a grainy, computer-enhanced image of a heavy-set woman with a headscarf and a bag over her shoulder — has been shown on TV and has run in at least one national newspaper.

Police also have put up posters in the neighborhood asking for help locating the woman.

The Jewish community is pleased by the police response to the attacks, said a spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain.

“The police reacted very speedily,” the spokesman said.

There was a repeated pattern to the attacks, with the arsonist spraying the doors of homes with a small amount of flammable liquid before setting it on fire.

The police believe the attacks are the work of a single individual, not a group, which was a source of some relief to local residents.

A prominent local rabbi said he hoped that the issue would not be blown out of proportion.

Rabbi Abraham Pinter also said he is relieved that the suspect was an Afro-Caribbean woman, rather than, for example, “someone of Middle Eastern appearance or a white skinhead.”

“There is no racial tension between the Jewish and Afro-Caribbean communities,” the rabbi added.

He suggested that the suspect might have mental health problems.

“There are people who find pleasure in making fires, and of course we need to find and catch such people,” he said.

He said that, while it is important not to “make the issue bigger than it is, obviously there is fear that it could lead to serious injury or worse.”

He said local residents are being vigilant and are ready to call the police if they see anything suspicious.

Stamford Hill, in north London, is home to 56 synagogues and 21 Hebrew schools.

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