Analysis: We need focus on why he was killed

By Natasha Lehrer, July 16, 2009

There was never any doubt that the judge would condemn Youssouf Fofana to the longest possible prison sentence. The kidnap and murder of Ilan Halimi, which he masterminded, horrified France.

In the event, he was condemned to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 22 years to be served.

The trial had not been without its drama (it took place in camera, because many of the defendants were under age at the time of the crime, but has been described on a daily blog by the Nouvel Observateur journalist Elsa Vigoureux).

Fofana, who has fired lawyer after lawyer hired to defend him, shocked the court with statements livid with antisemitic hatred and general contempt for justice and humanity.

Just when it seemed impossible that he could offend any more, his final words to the court before the verdict were a perverse echo of the words of David Ben-Gurion: “It is better to live one day like a lion than one hundred like a sheep.”

The lawyers for the Halimi family spoke immediately afterwards of their shock and disappointment that everyone other than Fofana, who received the maximum sentence, received relatively light sentences, ranging from 18 years to six months.

In several cases, sentences were lighter than those recommended by Attorney-General Philippe Bilger, and several will have their sentences commuted entirely, having already served them in custody before the trial took place.

On Monday, Michèle Alliot-Marie, France’s Minister of Justice, announced that the state would be appealing the leniency of some of the sentences.

But perhaps the focus should be less on the sentences than on the words of the defendants themselves during the trial. All but two — Fofana and one of his main accomplices, Cedric BSY — spoke of their deep regret at having participated in the kidnap and torture of Mr Halimi, and in several cases of their shame in having failed to speak out in time to save him.

Ms Vigoureux’s descriptions of their statements during the trial provide painful testimony of the shocking levels of antisemitism that these marginalised, economically depressed, ill-educated children of, for the most part, immigrants to France from of Africa, experience in their everyday life.

For many of those involved, Ilan Halimi’s kidnapping and murder was simply a diversion, a way to make some money, to be involved in something, a weak fascination with Fofana’s powerful charisma.

Let us hope that this trial has been a wake-up call to the French establishment about the extent to which these suburban youths feel disenfranchised from their country. For every Forfana, there are many others who — ignorant and insensible, impoverished and angry, inchoate and ill-educated —- support what he did, even if they would never act on it.

Natasha Lehrer is a Paris-based writer

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010