The French government issued a sharp new condemnation of racism Monday as a previously unknown Islamic extremist group claimed responsibility for burning a Jewish center here. "It's on the really strong orders of the president of the republic that the government declares war on racism, on all racism," Justice Minister Dominique Perben told RMC Info Radio. A statement in Arabic posted on an Islamic Web site claimed the attack in the name of the Group of the Holy Islamic War Supporters and said it was in response to "racist acts by Jews" in France and in the Palestinian territories. The police said that they were investigating the claim, one of several leads they were following. Perben rejected an assertion by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France that the government was "lax" on anti-Semitism. He said that prosecutors had orders to systematically appeal sentences seen as too light in such cases, that special appeals judges had been appointed and that penalties for racist crimes had twice been increased. "It's important that the law finds those guilty and that they are judged harshly," he said. The head rabbi for France, Joseph Sitruk, called on Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to make the fight against racism and anti-Semitism in particular a national priority, informs the International Herald Tribune. According to Reuters, a previously unknown Islamic militant group has said it set fire to a Jewish soup kitchen in Paris, but French investigators are treating the claim with caution. Jamaat Ansar al-Jihad al-Islamiya said on Monday it was behind the attack on the soup kitchen in the French capital on Sunday, according to a statement posted on a Web site used by Islamists. Nazi symbols were daubed on the building in the latest of a series of anti-Semitic attacks in France. A French anti-terrorism magistrate said experts were examining the statement because they did not want to rule out any suspects in the attack on the centre, which prepares kosher food for the needy in Paris. "But this is not what we were expecting. We are thinking about a more national, more local lead," he said. "This would not be an emblematic target for an Islamist group based in Dubai or in Egypt." French authorities are studying a claim of responsibility by a previously unknown Islamic group for a fire Sunday that destroyed a Jewish community center in Paris. A statement posted on an Islamic website Monday, said a group calling itself Jamaat Ansar Al-Jihad al Islamiya was responsible for the attack. The statement called the action retaliation for the defiling of Muslim cemeteries in France and other anti-Muslim acts outside the country. French President Jacques Chirac condemned the destruction of the center, and officials say those responsible face 20-year sentences if convicted. France has suffered a wave of anti-Semitic violence in recent years, coinciding with rising tensions in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reports VOANews.
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