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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

30 Jewish Tombstones Vandalized

Investigators suspect unruly teenagers vandalized the stones.

Unidentified vandals desecrated Jewish graves at Moscow's Vostryakovo cemetery early Thursday morning in what one Jewish group said could have been an act of violent anti-Semitism.

Twenty-two headstones were toppled and another eight broken apart in the Jewish section of the cemetery, located in the suburban neighborhood of Troparyovo-Nikulino in the west of Moscow.

Some of the damaged stones, which are located at a distance of between 50 and 100 meters away from each other, had photographs as well as decorative parts torn off, said Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Moscow Prosecutor's Office.

Reached by telephone Thursday, Troparyovo-Nikulino Prosecutor Vladimir Panizhevsky said the vandalism was most likely the work of unruly teenagers, but he added that he is probing the possibility that the desecration could have been carried out by "Nazi elements."

The incident comes two months after Moscow's Mariina Roshcha synagogue was badly damaged by a bomb. Graves at a cemetery run by the same synagogue were desecrated last month.

Jewish officials said they suspected anti-Semitism was behind Thursday's attack. "I'm confident that this was no childish naughtiness and even if it was, the aim was certainly not simply naughtiness," Alexander Osovtsov, executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress said in a telephone interview.

Osovtsov said his organization will file an official protest with Moscow authorities and urge them to boost security around Jewish sites in the city. Most cemeteries in Moscow have no security guards and are rarely patrolled by police.

The desecration occurred at around 7 a.m. and was overheard by a female employee of the cemetery's administration who "somehow didn't pay attention to it," Petrenko said.

Another employee spotted the toppled stones between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and notified police, she said.

Investigators are pursuing the theory that unruly teenagers vandalized the stones to retaliate for earlier attempts by the cemetery's administration to restrain them. Petrenko said the teenagers were "sort of misbehaving" at the cemetery Tuesday night and were urged to leave, which they did.

All of the interviewed officials said there was no anti-Jewish graffiti found on the stones.

No suspects had been either detained or identified as of Thursday evening, said Sergei Smirnov, deputy chief criminal investigator of the Troparyovo-Nikulino police force. However, Smirnov said he was confident all the vandals will be arrested "sooner or later."

If caught and convicted they could spend up to three years in prison, Panizhevsky said.

The cemetery's director Valery Khoroshev said Thursday that most of the toppled stones have already been set upright, and he vowed to replace those damaged irreparably with new ones.

He said there have been no individual complaints filed so far, though the vandalized stones have already been inspected by representatives of the Russian Jewish Congress and the Moscow Choral Synagogue.