Vandals desecrated 148 Muslim graves in France’s biggest war cemetery, hanging a pig’s head from one tombstone and daubing slogans insulting France’s Muslim justice minister, officials said Sunday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed “profound outrage” at the “sordid” attack on the Muslim quarter of the Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery, near the northern town of Arras on Saturday night. He vowed that those responsible would be punished.
The cemetery is France’s biggest military graveyards and commemorates tens of thousands of victims of a series of long and bloody battles for control of northern France at the start of World War I.
The attack came almost exactly a year after a similar incident in which neo-Nazi vandals scrawled swastikas on 52 of the cemetery’s Muslim graves.
“This is the most inadmissible kind of racism and the president of the republic shares the pain of France’s entire Muslim community,” said a statement issued by the presidency. France’s Muslim community is Europe’s largest at around five million.
“This hateful act is also a attack on the memory of all veterans of World War I, beyond the faith of each one,” the statement added.
The state prosecutor for Arras, Jean-Pierre Valensi, said “the slogans directly target Islam and they gravely insult Rachida Dati, the justice minister,” who is the daughter of north African immigrants.
He said a pig’s head was hung from one of the graves.
Dati issued a statement condemning a “hateful act” that “hurts the memory of our dead, of the veterans who gave their lives for France”.
“Through its racist connotations, it is an assault on the values of the republic and an insult to all French people.”