French police investigate possible anti-Semitic killing in Paris

PARIS, March 26 (Reuters) - French police are investigating whether the death of an elderly Jewish woman stabbed and burnt to death in her Paris apartment last week was an anti-Semitic murder, a judicial source said on Monday.

Mirelle Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was found dead on Friday inside the blackened remains of her apartment, which police suspect was set ablaze after she was attacked.

Two suspects have been detained but have not yet been charged.

The investigation by the Paris prosecutor's office is trying to establish whether it was a killing "motivated by the real or supposed adherence to a religion," the source said.

France's chief rabbi described Knoll's death as a "horror." Jewish leaders have called for a march in her memory.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is visiting Israel, said the theory that Knoll's death was anti-Semitic was plausible.

"It reminds us of the fundamental and permanent side of this battle (against anti-Semitism)," he said, speaking alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.

As a child in Paris, Knoll managed to evade the round-up of Jews during World War Two, Paris lawmaker Meyer Habib said.

Thousands of Jews were brought to the Velodrome d'Hiver cycling track in 1942 and sent on to Nazi death camps.

France is home to western Europe's biggest Jewish population and many in the 400,000-strong community have complained for years of a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes.

In 2015, vandals desecrated 250 tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France days after four Jews were killed in an attack on a kosher grocery in Paris.

Knoll's killing took place a year to the day after the murder of Sarah Halimi-Attal, a 65-year-old whose death prosecutors believe was anti-Semitic.

"The horror of the crime and the violence of the executioners are identical and reflect the negation of the human face," Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said in a tweet.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and John Irish; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Luke Baker and)