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Nobel laureate Wiesel not injured following attack

Mary Anne Ostrom
San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace-prize-winning Holocaust survivor and scholar, was grabbed and pulled out of a San Francisco hotel elevator last week - and now police and Jewish groups are mounting a intensive search for his attacker.

A blogger boasted about the Feb. 1 incident on an anti-Zionist Web site based in Australia on Wednesday, prompting the first media reports. The blogger claimed he had been trailing Wiesel for weeks and wrote he intended to get "a cornered Wiesel" to come to his room and renounce the Holocaust on video. The posting also suggests the attacker was seeking publicity from the attack on the 78-year-old Wiesel.

Wiesel, a respected human rights activist, strong supporter of Israel and author of more than 40 fiction and non-fiction books, was in San Francisco to speak at a forum on conflict resolution. Of his books, he is best known for "Night," a memoir of his experience in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

On Friday, San Francisco police described Wiesel's attacker as a white man in his 20s. A spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, which is working to identify the attacker, said police believe the man is from the East Coast, not the Bay Area.

Wiesel was unharmed, and police were called shortly after the 6:30 p.m. altercation. Wiesel told police he was in an elevator, heading back to his room at the Argent Hotel, when a young man asked Wiesel if he could interview him about the Holocaust. Wiesel said yes, but suggested they go to the lobby. The attacker insisted that Wiesel go with him to his room and then grabbed Wiesel, pulling him out of the elevator and dragging him into the hall.

"Mr. Wiesel started screaming and was able to run away," San Francisco police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens said. Wiesel went to the lobby and police were called. Police then gave Wiesel a ride to the airport.

A Feb. 7 posting on ZioPedia.org, attributed to an Eric Hunt, describes a similar incident. Police have refused to identify a suspect. The Anti-Defamation League said a daylong search Friday turned up no Eric Hunt connected to anti-Semitic Web postings and that the name did not appear in files the organization keeps of those whom it considers to be potential extremists.

The Hunt posting reads: "I had planned to bring Wiesel to my hotel room, where he would truthfully answer my questions regarding the fact that his non-fiction Holocaust memoir, Night, is almost entirely fictitious."

And it adds that he "planned on either getting Wiesel into my custody, with a cornered Wiesel finally forced to state the truth on videotape, getting arrested, or fleeing, and either way exposing . . . a genocidal liar."

He also complained that Wiesel "never called the police." Police were called but did not put out a news release.

Neither Wiesel, in New York City, nor his representatives could be reached for comment Friday.

Jonathan Bernstein, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League's local chapter, said the organization's researchers have been scouring the web for any clues to Eric Hunt's identity, but so far have come up empty.

Bernstein said ZioPedia is a well-known forum for anti-Semitic views. Calls and an e-mail to the site's registered owner, Andrew Winkler, who has been described as a founder of the Sydney-based Rebel Media Group - the non-profit organization behind the blog - were not returned.

Bernstein said his group finds the Hunt posting "a little bit odd."

The posting appears to be written by someone "who is rather knowledgeable about the Holocaust denial movement, and not someone in his 20s." His speculation is that the posting may have been written by someone else using the attacker's account of the San Francisco incident.

Bernstein said the Hunt posting echoed writings of Robert Faurisson, a Frenchman who is considered to be Europe's leading anti-Holocaust scholar.

Bernstein said he could not recall any publicized incident of Wiesel being accosted previously.

"Security is kind of an issue for someone like Wiesel," said Bernstein, adding of Holocaust deniers: "He embodies everything they are against."

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