Wednesday, October 27, 2010

(BLOG) Remembering Ilan Halimi

Ilan Halimi was a young French Jew (of Moroccan parentage) who was kidnapped on 21 January 2006 by a gang called "the Barbarians" (Gang des Barbares) and subsequently tortured, over a period of three weeks, resulting in his death.

The murder, amongst whose motives authorities include antisemitism, incited a public outcry in a France already marked by intense public controversy about the role of children of Muslim immigrants in France.

A total of 27 people were accused as implicated in the crime and were tried for kidnapping and murder in 2009. Gang leader Youssouf Fofana (born 1980 in Paris to immigrants from Ivory Coast) was convicted to a life sentence, eligible for parole after 22 years (the maximum pentalty under French law). Others received shorter prison sentences, some suspended, and three were acquitted. While Fofana's life sentence is definite, 14 of the 27 verdicts were appealed. The retrial is in progress (as of 25th October 2010).

Timeline of the crime

According to press reports based on information from French criminal investigation authorities, as of 25 February 2006 the crime is believed to have happened as follows:
  • On 20 January, Halimi was lured by an attractive seventeen year old girl named Yalda, of French-Iranian origin, to an apartment block in the Parisian banlieues.
  • There Halimi was overwhelmed by a youth gang and kept prisoner for twenty-four days. During that time, his kidnappers tortured him by wrapping his head in tape (except for a mouth opening for feeding him with a straw), stripping off his clothes, stabbing and cutting him, burning his face and body with cigarettes and beating him in order to try to extract a ransom of initially EUR 450,000 from his family. Reportedly, neighbors came by to watch and to even participate in the torture but no one called the authorities.
  • On 13 February, Halimi was found naked, tied and handcuffed to a tree near a railroad track in the Parisian outskirts, with burns from acid and flammable liquid covering 80% of his body (possibly to destroy evidence of his captors' DNA), with multiple stab wounds, as well as with one severed ear and toe. On the way to the hospital, he died from his wounds.
  • In the subsequent days, French police arrested 21 persons in connection with the crime, including the woman used as bait. The leader of the gang, Youssouf Fofana, fled to his parents' homeland of Ivory Coast, where he was arrested on 23 February. Fofana was extradited back to France on 4 March 2006.

Attempted extortion

The kidnappers originally thought Halimi was wealthy because he came from a Moroccan Jewish family, though he came from the same poor and working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris as the kidnappers did.
  • The kidnappers demanded ransom, initially EUR 450,000; this then dropped to EUR 5,000.
  • The French police initially believed that anti-Semitism was not a factor in the crime.[17]
  • As the investigation progresses, this gang appears to have been implicated in at least 15 other cases of racketeering. Posing as members of the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica or member of the French division of the PFLP, they threatened several high ranking CEOs including Jérôme Clément, président of the European TV operator Arte, Rony Brauman, former president and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, and the CEO as well as another high-ranking member of a large company selling home appliances. They sent threatening pictures of an unknown man dressed as a middle-eastern Arab in front of a picture of Osama Bin Laden. In another case, the owner of a large grocery store was directed to pay 100,000 euros.

  • According to then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, members of the gang confessed that they believed all Jews to be rich and it motivated them to target several Jews, culminating with Halimi. This starkly contrasts with the reality of the Halimi family's working-class circumstances; they and many other poor and working-class Jews inhabited the same lower-class banlieue as the attackers.
  • The French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin declared that the "odious crime" was antisemitic, and that antisemitism is not acceptable in France.

Muslim fundamentalism

Halimi's uncle Rafi told reporters that some of the telephone calls to the victim's family involved recitations from the Qur'an accompanied by Halimi's tortured screams. The French-Arab and African-Muslim ringleaders recited verses from the Koran in their communications with the family, while Ilan's tortured screams could be heard in the background. It also appeared the gang had a connection to the Palestinian group Hamas, as its propaganda material was found by the kidnappers.

Reburial in Israel

At the request of the family, the remains of Ilan Halimi were reburied in Har HaMenuchot cemetery Israel on Friday, Feb. 9, 2007.

It was timed to allow his first Yartzeit, on Tu Bishvat, to pass before the reburial. The date and time (11:30am) also marked "exactly one year after his burial in France according to the Jewish Calendar."

Join the Facebook group to keep the memory of Ilan alive.

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