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Authorities probe arson attempt at Moscow synagogue

By Maxim Tkachenko, CNN
  • Police launch an investigation into an attempted arson at a synagogue
  • Some speculate the attack was in response to the sentencings in a neo-Nazi trial
  • No one was hurt, but part of the building's wall was burned

Moscow (CNN) -- Police launched a criminal probe Wednesday into an arson attempt at a Moscow synagogue earlier this week, a police statement said.

Two suspects threw four bottles containing a flammable liquid at the Darkei Shalon synagogue late Monday or early Tuesday, Russia's Investigative Committee reported on its website. No one was injured, but part of the synagogue's outer wall was burned, the committee said.

The building's caretaker extinguished the flames himself and reported the incident to police.

Authorities said three of the bottles broke and caught fire, but the fourth one was found intact and was recovered as part of the investigation.

If the perpetrators are found, they may be charged with vandalism, a crime that could result in a 3-year prison sentence if they are convicted, according to the Russian Criminal Code.

The Israeli Embassy in Moscow expressed its deep concern over the incident, and the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement Tuesday condemning the incident as "a very bad symptom that describes the moral condition of the society in a very bad way."

A number of Russian and foreign media outlets have speculated that the arson attempt against the synagogue might have been carried out by skinheads, in reaction to the sentencings Monday of five members of the outlawed Russian Nationalist-Socialist Society.

A Moscow court sentenced five of the 13 group members to life imprisonment, while others received prison terms ranging from 10 to 23 years. The court ruled that members of the neo-Nazi group had murdered at least 28 people in Russia, mostly migrants from the Caucasus republics and Central Asia, as well as anti-fascist activists and runaway members of their own group.

However, Russian Jewish Congress President Yury Kanner told Russia's Interfax news agency that the attack on a synagogue should not be linked to the trial.

"Investigators must find out the motives for the attack, but there are no reasons to link this unpleasant incident to Monday's trial of neo-Nazis. I would not hasten to make such statements," he said.

But it appears the attack had been carefully planned, he said. "The synagogue is in a place far away from metro stations and public transport stops. Those people knowingly chose the place and arrived there at night, bringing along incendiary bottles," he said.

Kanner also suggested that the attack does not suggest that ethnic or religious enmity is on the rise in Russia.

"There are no reasons to speculate on growing anti-Semitism, either," he said.

The attacked synagogue was built by a Muslim, Kanner said.