Racism to be focus of Halimi murder trial

By Natasha Lehrer, April 30, 2009
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On trial: Fofana

On trial: Fofana

Three years ago, Ilan Halimi, a Jewish mobile phone salesman who worked in central Paris, agreed to go on a date with a pretty girl who had, she later confessed, been sent to entrap him. Three weeks later, he was found by railway tracks south of Paris.

He was barely conscious; his body was marked with the evidence of multiple torture and had been doused in fuel and set alight. He died on the way to hospital.

This week in Paris the trial begins of his alleged kidnappers, members of a gang known as the Barbarians. Gang leader, Youssouf Fofana, 23, was arrested ten days after Mr Halimi’s body was found, having fled to the Ivory Coast.

The murder raised the spectre of antisemitism in France and the often unhappy relations between Jews and Arabs, who sometimes live side by side in the housing estates that ring the main cities. Fofana and his gang demanded a ransom of €450,000 from Mr Halimi’s family, believing, it is alleged, that “all Jews have money” and “stick together”. The police, meanwhile, played down Mr Halimi’s Jewishness and refused to consider the kidnapping to be racially motivated, apparently delaying the search for Mr Halimi, who was being hidden in a flat in a southern suburb of Paris. Meanwhile, many locals seemed to know Mr Halimi was being held but kept quiet.

While Mr Halimi was being held, the gang are said to have taunted his parents with phone calls and sent videos and photographs of him being tortured with lit cigarettes, acid and knives. Even after Mr Halimi’s body was found, Fofana allegedly continued to harass his parents by phone.

The circumstances leading to Mr Halimi’s death will be investigated by prosecutors, whose focus will be on the antisemitic nature of the crime. Mr Halimi’s family is said to be horrified that the defence is to reject claims that Fofana was motivated by antisemitism. In a recently-published book about the kidnap and murder, his mother Ruth wrote: “My son died because of that prejudice, just like millions of Jews before him”. She compared the kidnapping with that of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist beheaded by Muslim extremists in 2002.

Mr Halimi’s body was disinterred in 2007 and reburied in Jerusalem. “You will never be able to hurt him any more,” Ruth Halimi wrote in her book, addressing the killers. “I took him away from here because one day you will be free and you would have been able to come and spit on his tomb.”

Last updated: 9:56am, April 30 2009