Protests in France after deadly attack on Kurdish center

PARIS (HPD) — Kurdish activists, left-wing politicians and anti-racist groups protested Saturday in Paris after an attack on a Kurdish cultural center that killed three people and was believed by authorities to be motivated by racism.

The shooting attack in a busy central Paris neighborhood also injured three and raised fears of hate attacks against racial minorities as far-right sectors have gained prominence in France and across Europe.

The alleged attacker was injured and detained, and on Saturday he was transferred to receive psychiatric care, the Paris prosecutor’s office said. He is a 69-year-old Parisian who was accused last year of attacking migrants and was released a few days ago. He faces potential charges of murder and attempted murder with racist motives, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Saturday.

Thousands of people gathered at Place de la République in eastern Paris on Saturday, waving flags representing Kurdish rights groups, political parties and other causes.

The gathering was mostly peaceful, although some youths threw objects, set vehicles and garbage bins on fire, and police responded with tear gas. Some protesters shouted slogans against the Turkish government. Berivan Firat of the Kurdish Democratic Council in France told BFM TV that the violence broke out when several people drove through the area in vehicles waving a Turkish flag.

Most of the protesters were multi-generational ethnic Kurds who came together to mourn the three people killed, including a leading feminist activist and a Kurdish singer who came to France as a refugee.

“We are devastated, really. We are devastated because we lost a very important member of our community and we are angry. How is this possible?” said protester Yekbun Ogur, a high school biology teacher in Paris. “Is it normal for a man with a gun to sneak into a cultural place to come kill people?”

Protester Yunus Cicek wiped away tears as he spoke about the victims and their fears.

“We are not protected here. Even though I have political refugee status, I don’t feel safe… Maybe next time it will be me.”

The shooting rocked the French capital’s Kurdish community and put police on extra alert for the Christmas weekend. The Paris police chief met with members of the Kurdish community on Saturday to try to allay their fears ahead of Saturday’s protest.

The French Ministry of the Interior reported a 13% increase in race-related crimes or other offenses in 2021 compared to 2019, after an 11% increase from 2018 to 2019. The Ministry did not include 2020 in its statistics because to the successive pandemic closures of that year. He added that a disproportionate number of such crimes target people of African descent, also citing hundreds of attacks based on religion.

The attack on Friday took place at the cultural center, a nearby Kurdish restaurant and a Kurdish hairdresser. Surveillance video from the hair salon shared online suggests that people in the salon subdued the attacker before police arrived on the scene. The prosecution did not provide further details about the circumstances of his arrest.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the suspect was clearly targeting foreigners, had acted alone and was not officially affiliated with any far-right or other radical movement. The suspect had prior convictions for illegal possession of weapons and acts of violence with weapons.

Kurdish activists claimed that police had recently warned them about threats to Kurdish targets.

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