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2 Men Killed in an Apparent Bombing Attempt on Marseilles Main Synagogue

March 9, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A powerful bomb exploded early this morning near the main synagogue in Marseilles demolishing a car and killing two terrorists in it who had been transporting the bomb in an apparent attempt to blow up the synagogue.

It was the third attempted attack on Jewish installations in Marseilles in less than two weeks. Ten days ago a bomb was discovered, and dismantled before it could explode, in a hall where Jewish children were planning to hold a Purim festival. Last Friday a bomb was discovered in a Jewish-owned store. It was defused by police.

Policemen guarding the synagogue in the center of the city said two men drove by at 2:30 a.m. and slowed down in front of the building. When they spotted the police patrol they drove away at high speed and turned into a narrow alley. There, they found themselves blocked by another police car.

Police investigators believe that the two men, whose charred bodies were as far away as 20 yards from the blazing car, had triggered off their bomb when they first passed by the synagogue and never managed to stop it from exploding or to escape from the car. As the bomb detonated one of the men was in the process of jumping out of the car and the other died apparently in the driver’s seat, police said.


Marseilles Mayor Gaston Defferre arrived within minutes at the site of the attack and later also phoned the city’s Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruck to assure him that “everything will be done” to ensure the Jewish community’s protection. He later told a press conference that the two men were “probably” members of a neo-Nazi group and were planning to attack the synagogue.

Defferre, who faces a difficult run-off in next Sunday’s municipal elections, assured the city’s Jews of his solidarity and said that as Minister of Interior he had taken “all the precautions to combat violence.” Defferre said that his charge against a neo-Nazi organization is still “within the realm of suspicions only.”

Sitruck called on the community to remain vigilant but said that nothing is as yet certain and that the bomb explosion might be linked to factors other than anti-Semitism.


Later today police evacuated the Marseilles branch of Bank Leumile-Israel, a French subsidiary of Bank Leumi, after the bank received a bomb threat from an anonymous telephone caller, bank officials reported. They said no bomb was found in the bank, located two buildings from the headquarters of Defferre’s chief mayoral opponent, Jean-Claude Gaudin.


Police later said they had difficulty identifying the victims. The car itself had been stolen in Marseilles last month and the two men’s bodies were practically burned to cinders. An eye-witness said that after the explosion “10-yard-high flames leaped into the night sky.” He also said the two men first appeared to be alive and “I saw two living torches run for a couple of feet before collapsing.”

Among the few unturned papers found in the wreck are documents belonging to a woman jailed recently in Avignon, a southern city not far from Marseilles, for carrying a loaded gun.

No group or organization has as yet claimed responsibility for the aborted attack but some of Defferre’s rightwing opponents in the electoral race hinted that “it was all linked to some electoral maneuver.”

Defferre himself lost his temper when told about this charge at his press conference. He said, “they who say such things, assume a heavy responsibility.” He said the bombing attempt was an effort to destabilize the government by making it seem that the Interior Minister is incapable of guaranteeing security in France. He added: “There is no doubt that it was an anti-Semitic attack.” Defferre made a similar statement after a bomb was found at the hall where a children’s Purim party was to take place.


If the bomb attack was in fact aimed at the synagogue, it would be the 12th anti-Semitic attack attempted in France in the last eight months. The most serious was the attack last August 9 against Jo Goldenberg’s restaurant on the Rue des Rosiers in the old Jewish district in Paris. Six people were killed and 22 were wounded in that attack.

Five other attacks against Jewish and Israeli installations were claimed by the extreme leftwing Direct Action group and one by an unknown group calling itself “The Red Panthers.” Police suspect that the attack on Goldenberg’s restaurant was carried out by a Palestinian splinter group headed by Abu Nidel.

Many terrorist attacks not linked to Israel or anti-Semitism have also taken their toll. Some were carried out by Iranians, Iraqis or the Corsican independence movement.

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