Firebombing at Jewish school linked to killing of Hamas chief Imported Mideast hatred hits Montreal school Gary Dimmock Tuesday, April 06, 2004 The firebombing of a Jewish elementary school in Montreal was executed yesterday as direct retaliation for the Israeli-sponsored assassination of Sheik Yassin, the founder of the Hamas terrorist group, according to a "warning" note left outside the burned-out library, the Citizen has learned. The note, according to sources, linked the attack to the assassination last month. Mr. Yassin was killed when Israeli helicopters launched a missile attack on him as he left a mosque in Gaza City. Shortly after the killing, Hamas vowed revenge against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Police would not discuss the contents of the note. CTV News quoted a portion of the letter, as saying: "Our goal was only to sound the alarm without causing deaths. ... but this is just a beginning. If your crimes continue in the Middle East, our attacks will continue." The firebombing attack came on the eve of Passover, around 2:30 a.m. yesterday. "It's an act of terrorism, plain and simple," said Sidney Benudiz, principal of United Talmud Torah school, set in a residential Montreal neighbourhood. The fire left the school library in ruins. No one was in the school at the time of the fire. The fire is now under criminal investigation. Police say the unknown attackers were inspired by hate. Jewish leaders and police said anti-Semitic leaflets, including a "warning" note, were left behind by the perpetrators. The attack has shaken Montreal's Jewish community, with leaders boosting security across the city. "There's shock. That's the first reaction. But we're a strong community and it will continue to do what we do and we will do whatever we can to stop this senseless, hateful violence," said Bill Surkis, executive director of the Quebec region of B'nai Brith Canada. The attack on the elementary school sparked indignation across the country yesterday. Prime Minister Paul Martin condemned the attack, saying it's against values espoused by Canadians. "We must all utterly condemn this cowardly and racist act, and draw together to fight such an abomination which, like cancer, undermines the harmonious relations among the diverse communities that make Canada an example throughout the world," Mr. Martin said in a statement. "On behalf of all Canadians, I would like to express our solidarity toward the Jewish community in Montreal and across Canada. ... This is not my Canada and this is not our Canada." Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, a Montreal MP and a graduate of the school, expressed outrage while surveying the damage. "What we have witnessed here today is the anti-Semitism of hate and of racism. The anti-Semitism of violence, anti-Semitism that consists of an assault on the inherent dignity of being human. "We unequivocally condemn these acts of racist hate. ... We will not be silenced, we will not be intimidated. And we will act, we will bring the full force of the law to bear those who would commit these cowardly acts of racist hate crimes." Mr. Benudiz, head of the United Talmud Torah Elementary school, said it reminded him of book burnings in the Nazi era. Moments after the firebombing, other Jewish organizations in Montreal, as well as Ottawa, were put on security alert after the incident. David Brinbaum, executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress' Quebec region, called the attack an "ugly and dangerous" signal to all Canadians. "It's a disturbing day. There's no ignoring that an incident at this level -- the firebombing of anelementary school -- is a very ugly and deplorable departure from any kind of security problems we've seen in Quebec," he said. "We are convinced that our political and law enforcement leaders, are not going to tolerate any importing the violence of the Middle East to our shores." Mr. Brinbaum said the library "will be rebuilt in a real hurry, with community support." The firebombing comes just weeks after the assassination of Mr. Yassin, who founded Hamas in1987. He was held in Israeli prisons for several years before being released in 1994. Israel, which blamed him for inspiring Hamas bombers and attackers who killed hundreds of Israelis, tried unsuccessfully to kill him in a September missile strike. The timing of the fire is believed to be linked to the Jewish holiday of Passover, which began at sundown yesterday and continues for eight days. School was already out for Passover, with the students not due back at school until next Wednesday. Police are treating the attack as a hate crime, and teams from both the arson and organized crime divisions -- the latter is responsible for hate crimes -- are working on the investigation. Though assistant police chief Yves Surprenant later tried to downplay his words, he at one point in addressing reporters suggested that the author of the note linked the criminal act to an organization. Meeting with reporters in the school's gymnasium, politicians and Jewish community leaders issued strong statements of condemnation and support. Muslim organizations also issued statements. "Everyone is hurt when these types of actions take place," Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, said in a written statement. Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said he hoped that a Muslim was not involved, as this would undoubtedly fuel anti-Muslim sentiment. "It was a hate crime, and the agony will be double if it was committed by a Muslim," he said. The fire comes after a recent spate of anti-Semitic violence in Toronto. Acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in Canada, according to an audit released recently by B'nai Brith Canada. The report recorded 584 incidents of anti-Semitism in 2003 -- the highest number of cases in 21 years when B'nai Brith first started keeping tabs on the problem. Most of the 2003 incidents occurred during the buildup to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Montreal region accounted for 102 of those incidents last year. That's a 17-per-cent rise from the 87 cases recorded in 2002.