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Lugano synagogue attack was not anti-Jewish

The attack against the synagogue practically destroyed its entire library Keystone

Authorities in Lugano in southern Switzerland have confirmed that the firebombing of a local synagogue nearly two weeks ago was not an anti-Semitic attack.

This content was published on March 24, 2005 - 16:48

Police say the Italian arrested on March 20 and who set fire to the house of worship as well as a Jewish-owned fabric shop, was mentally disturbed.

The man quickly confessed to the attacks shortly after being taken into custody. But the prosecutor investigating the case had some doubts about his confession, and ordered extra DNA tests.

"The tests on a glove impregnated with petrol and found near the synagogue show that the arrested man was the arsonist," said chief prosecutor Bruno Balestra.

The prosecutor’s office said the 58-year-old’s actions were not guided by anti-Jewish sentiment, but that he was mentally unstable. He will now undergo a psychiatric assessment.

Rosa Item, the investigating prosecutor, added that the man, a former Lugano bus driver, had been unable to explain how he chose his targets.

Depression and regret

The arsonist’s lawyer said his client was suffering from depression and now regretted his acts.

He attempted to burn the door of an apartment with a Molotov cocktail after an earlier argument with the person living there, before attacking the synagogue and the shop.

It was the first time in living memory that a Jewish house of worship in Switzerland had been set on fire.

The arsonist was arrested early on Sunday after policemen watching the synagogue saw him throwing rocks against a nearby building. Soon afterwards, the police found cans of petrol in the back of his car.

Shortly after his detention, he admitted the attacks, but his explanations did not tally with some of the investigators’ findings.

Suspicious fires

A number of suspicious fires also broke out last week in the Lugano area. Police will now attempt to determine whether the arsonist was responsible for these outbreaks.

The Jewish community in canton Ticino was appalled by the attack against the synagogue, which came out the blue. Its president, Elio Bollag, had claimed shortly afterwards that is was clearly anti-Semitic.

Members of the community also received a number of insulting and threatening phone calls after the fires.

Recent attacks against Jewish houses of worship in Switzerland have been restricted until now to graffiti on walls. But in June 2001, a rabbi was stabbed to death on a Zurich street, and his killer was never found.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

A synagogue and a Jewish-owned fabric shop were firebombed during the night of March 13.
One week ago, more than 1,000 people gathered for a march in Lugano to show their support for the Jewish community.
The community has 350 members in canton Ticino, and was founded mainly by immigrants who moved to the area between 1910 and 1920.
There are 17,700 Jews in Switzerland.

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