PARIS (AP) — Kurdish activists, left-wing politicians and anti-racism groups demonstrated Saturday in Paris after three people were killed at a Kurdish cultural center in an attack that prosecutors say was racially motivated.
The shooting in a bustling neighborhood of central Paris also wounded three people, and stirred up concerns about hate crimes against minority groups at a time when far-right voices have gained prominence in France and around Europe in recent years.
The suspected attacker was wounded and is in custody. He is a 69-year-old Parisian who was charged last year with attacking migrants and was released earlier this month. He is facing potential charges of murder and attempted murder with a racist motive, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Saturday.
Thousands gathered Saturday at the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris, waving a colorful spectrum of flags representing Kurdish rights groups, political parties and other causes. The gathering was largely peaceful, though some youths threw projectiles and skirmished with police firing tear gas. Some protesters shouted slogans against the Turkish government.
Most demonstrators were ethnic Kurds of varying generations who came together to mourn the three people who were killed, share concerns that they don’t feel safe, and ask how could this kind of attack happen in the center of Paris.
The shooting shook the Kurdish community in the French capital and put police on extra alert for the Christmas weekend.
The Paris police chief met Saturday with members of the Kurdish community to try to allay their fears ahead of Saturday’s rally.
France’s Interior Ministry reported a 13% rise in race-related crimes or other violations in 2021 over 2019, after an 11% rise from 2018 to 2019. The ministry did not include 2020 in its statistics because of successive pandemic lockdowns that year. It said a disproportionate number of such crimes target people of African descent, and also cited hundreds of attacks based on religion.
Friday’s attack took place at the cultural center and a nearby Kurdish restaurant and Kurdish hair salon. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the suspect was clearly targeting foreigners, and had acted alone and was not officially affiliated with any extreme-right or other radical movements. The suspect had past convictions for illegal arms possession and armed violence.
Kurdish activists said they had recently been warned by police of threats to Kurdish targets.
In 2013, three women Kurdish activists, including Sakine Cansiz, a founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, were found shot dead at a Kurdish center in Paris.
Turkey’s army has been battling against Kurdish militants affiliated with the banned PKK in southeast Turkey as well as in northern Iraq. Turkey’s military also recently launched a series of air and artillery strikes against Syrian Kurdish militant targets in northern Syria.
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