Was the murder of Sebastien Selam, killed with a knife and fork in the car park of his apartment building, the act of a madman — or an antisemitic crime?
This is the question a Parisian court of appeal is currently considering, and which is agitating the French community, less than six months after the conviction of Youssef Fofana and members of his “Gang of barbarians” for the kidnap and brutal murder of Ilan Halimi.
Just before midnight on December 18, 2003, Mr Selam, 23, was on his way back to the Parisian flat where he lived with his mother.
In the underground car park, he saw a friend, Adel Amastaibou. He stopped to say hello. The two young men were childhood friends, but their lives had gone in quite different directions.
Mr Selam, known as DJ Lam C (a reversal of his surname), was a well-known DJ at various Parisian nightclubs, whilst Adel had become a small-time drug dealer.
Adel, it is alleged, took out a knife with which he slit Mr Selam’s throat and gouged out his eyes. He is said to have run upstairs to his flat and, according to his mother, cried: “I killed a Jew! Now I will go to heaven!”
According to police, when he arrived, he told them: “It was what Allah demanded.”
In the course of their investigation it emerged that Mr Selam’s family had been regularly harassed during the preceding months.
A mezuzah was ripped from the front door and at one point a dead rooster was apparently left outside their
apartment with its throat cut.
A short time before Mr Selam’s murder, Amastaibou had been convicted of an attack on a rabbi.
But when the case came to court in 2006, Amastaïbou’s claim of diminished responsibility was accepted, and according to French law, he could not be sent to trial.
However, a new penal law, ratified in early 2008, led to the president of the Parisian Court of Appeal agreeing, at the request of the Selam family’s lawyer, to a new hearing to determine once again whether Amastaïbou could be sent for trial. The lawyer, Axel Metzger, called the murder “an antisemitic crime” whose racist nature has been covered up.
Last Monday, six years after the murder, the hearing took place in the presence of psychiatrists and civil parties to determine whether the claim of diminished responsibility still holds.
The results of the hearing, which will decide whether Amastaïbou will stand trial for murder, will not be known until the beginning of January.
According to those who have been following the case, it is extremely unlikely that the court will overturn the previous decision. The hearing has had one positive result. The case, which was barely covered by the French press in 2003, has received wide publicity.
Still, according to Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre: “This case underlines how hard it is to prove a hate crime in France.
“It has been a failure of the French penal system and a failure of the French media. It’s antisemitism by indifference.”