Three arrests over synagogue fire

Two Britons, aged 23 and 33, have been arrested and two Americans are being sought in connection to arson attacks on the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Hania, Crete, police said yesterday. Local Police Chief Fotis Liotsakis said that a 24-year-old Greek man had also been taken into custody on suspicion of being part of the group of five men that attacked Crete’s only surviving synagogue twice this month. According to Liotsakis, one of the Americans set fire to a wooden staircase at the synagogue on January 5, while the other four acted as lookouts. He said that on January 16, the same five suspects returned to the Etz Hayyim and one of the British suspects broke into the place of worship and started the fire that caused widespread damage to the 14th-century building, which had undergone extensive restoration during the last decade. Almost 2,000 books and much of the building were destroyed in the blaze. Liotsakis said the two British men who were arrested work as nightclub doormen in Hania’s old town. The pair has denied involvement in the attack but sources said that one of the two expressed anti-Semitic sentiments during his questioning by police. Sources added that police made the arrests after questioning the 24-year-old Greek suspect extensively. A local from Iraklio, the suspect is alleged to have eventually identified the other four members of the group that burned the synagogue. Police did not identify the two Americans they are seeking. «I can’t say I’m happy now; they should have arrested them earlier, after the first attack, and not left the synagogue unprotected,» Moses Constantinis, head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told Reuters. Police are also questioning the suspects in connection to several recent attacks on immigrants in Hania and are investigating whether they were acting on their own or in association with racist groups outside of Greece.

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