“They were able to keep secret the place of his detention because nearly 30 accomplices wrapped themselves in silence: the silence that killed Ilan. Today, there is a new silence that has enveloped the trial: the trial that has been closed to the public and press. At Choc, we have decided to revisit this sad case at length. And to publish this horrifying photo, which — far better than words — tells of the ordeal suffered by a human being who fell into the grasp of barbarism.”
This is how the editors of Choc explained their decision to publish a photo of Ilan Halimi in captivity.
Sometimes words are not adequate. They are obviously not adequate in this case. There is not even any word to describe the condition in which Ilan is to be found in the photo. Ordinarily, we might say that the hostage was “bound and gagged”. Ilan’s hands are bound, but he is not gagged. His face has been fully wrapped around in duct tape: “like a mummy”, as one of his “jailers” has been quoted as saying.
But it is not only the exceptional brutality that it documents that makes the photo newsworthy. It also supplies important clues about the motives of Youssouf Fofana and his “Gang of Barbarians”.
A comparison with photos of Daniel Pearl in captivity reveals striking similarities. The Halimi photo is a kind of composite of elements also found in the Pearl photos: the bound hands, the newspaper as proof of date, the pistol emerging from outside the frame, the cloth backdrop.
French authorities have persistently downplayed the role played by antisemitism in the affair, treating it as merely an “aggravating factor” in a crime that was essentially economically motivated. But if Fofana was inspired by the ritual slaughter of “the Jew Daniel Pearl” (as Pearl’s captors called him), then this is powerful proof that antisemitism formed an integral part of his motivations, proof that would remain hidden if the authorities had their way.
This publicity-shyness is nothing new. One of the most troubling aspects of the Ilan Halimi case is the unwillingness of the French police to publicise Ilan’s kidnapping until after he was dead. During the 24 days that he was held captive, the public was not informed. Nearly 30 persons were in some form or another implicated in the crime. Some of them are known to have told others about it. All these people knew that Ilan was being held captive. Not all of them, however, knew what was being done to him.
The question must be posed: If the photo had been made public at the time, would Ilan be alive today?