Tuesday, February 21, 2006
GANG TORTURE, MURDER OF JEW IS ANTI-SEMITISM
The following article from the Los Angeles Times concerns the racist murder of a French Jew and its follow up. The only positive in the story is the news that the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples and SOS Racism (two groups which work primarily within the French Muslim community) are showing their solidarity with the beleaguered French Jewish community.
The second article is from the European Jewish Press.
Anti-Semitism Is Alleged in French Torture-Killing
By Sebastian Rotella, Times Staff Writer
PARIS Â In a new case of strife and brutality in France's immigrant neighborhoods, authorities alleged Monday that anti-Semitism influenced a gang that kidnapped a Jewish store clerk, tortured him for more than three weeks and killed him.
An investigative magistrate ruled Monday evening that some of the seven suspects would face hate-crime charges in addition to kidnapping and murder in the death last week of Ilan Halimi, 23, according to French officials and media reports. The suspects, five men and two women, were still being questioned late Monday night.
The decision came after days of fury in France's Jewish community, which held an angry street protest Sunday and accused politicians of minimizing the crime to avoid increasing tension that lingers from riots by predominantly Muslim youths late last year.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin promised Jewish leaders at a previously scheduled community banquet Monday night that investigators would "shed light" on "an odious crime." He expressed condolences to the family of Halimi, who lived with his mother and two sisters and worked selling cellular phone equipment in a store in a middle-class neighborhood.
"I want each one of [his relatives] to know that I share their pain," De Villepin said.
The kidnappers, who called themselves "The Barbarians," beat, burned and mutilated Halimi during 24 days of captivity in the cellar of a tough housing project in Bagneux, southwest of the capital, according to investigators.
The gang taunted Halimi's family and a rabbi with anti-Semitic epithets and recited Koranic verses during telephone calls and e-mails demanding wildly diverging amounts of ransom that never were collected, investigators said. The kidnappers also sent photos of the victim with a gun to his head, bound and blindfolded, apparently mimicking images of hostages and abused prisoners in Iraq.
Those actions and others led prosecutors to add aggravating circumstances of anti-Semitism to the charges sought against some of the suspects.
"When the family said they didn't have money, they told them to go to a synagogue to get the money," said Sammy Ghozlan, a Jewish leader who is a retired police chief and has campaigned against anti-Semitic crime here in recent years. "This gang massacred this young man. They cut off ears and fingers. It was like they had a trophy, a Jewish kid, and everybody abused him."
According to Monday's edition of Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Halimi's mother criticized the police for moving too slowly and for ignoring the anti-Semitic motives.
"If Ilan hadn't been Jewish, he wouldn't have been murdered," Ruth Halimi told Haaretz.
Police insisted that they had worked the case around the clock, but were stymied by the suspects' convoluted and evolving demands. They are still hunting for the suspected ringleader, Youssef Fofana, an ex-convict who may have fled to his native Ivory Coast, Justice Minister Pascal Clement said.
So far, the investigation suggests that the gang targeted Jews because its members believed that Jews were rich, officials say. The gang's victims in at least three previous attempted kidnappings were Jewish, but several other victims were not, a French intelligence official said.
"You have a kind of confusion that results in great cruelty," the intelligence official said. "It starts as a kidnapping for money, but ends up focusing on his religion because they found out he wasn't rich. And you end up with the murder of a Jew in horrible circumstances."
The gang used attractive young women as bait. Halimi disappeared Jan. 20 after telling his family he was going out with a woman who had come to the store, engaged him in conversation and made a date with him.
On Feb. 13, he was dumped near railroad tracks, naked, bound and with 80% of his body burned and bruised, but still alive. He died of his wounds in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
The gang first demanded half a million dollars ransom, but kept changing demands, and ended up asking for $6,000, officials said. The captors' perceived lack of effort to collect the money suggests to some investigators that the gang was taunting the family, officials said.
The apparently mixed motives of the kidnappers are symptomatic of the violent mentality of high-crime housing projects, where riots have left a smoldering, semi-politicized rage that at its worst is sweepingly anti-Western and hostile to Jews, Americans and the French state, observers said.
But police have found no ties between the suspects and the Islamic extremist networks active in France, authorities said.
On Monday night, two civil rights organizations that work mostly with Muslim communities condemned the killing of Halimi.
The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples and the SOS Racism group said they planned to show solidarity with the Jewish community by joining forces with the prosecution as civil plaintiffs in the case.
During the last decade, France's Jewish community has been hit by periodic arson and vandalism against synagogues and schools, but incidents of serious physical violence have been infrequent.
The perpetrators are generally Muslim youths, police say. Some of the rioters who rampaged nationwide in October and November painted anti-Jewish graffiti alongside slogans insulting the police and the French state.
If the Halimi killing turns out to have been driven by anti-Semitism, it will be one of the worst such crimes in recent memory.
"There is a lot of emotion in the community tonight," said Joseph Zehrin, vice president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France. "We hope that the justice system will do everything it takes, and that these barbarians, as they themselves call themselves, will be punished."
Ilan HalimiÂs murder dominates annual CRIF dinner meeting
By Yossi Lempkowicz and Rebecca Assoun in Paris Updated: 21/Feb/2006 17:08
Traditionally the annual dinner organised by CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, has been dominated by the French governmentÂs Mideast policy regarding the Middle East, especially Israel.
Every year, the French Prime minister delivers his speech to some 800 invitees, FranceÂs top political, social, religious, business, diplomatic and communal leaders.
But this year, while statements about Hamas and Iran were expected to top the agenda, the atrocious murder of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Jewish Parisian man, radically changed the priorities of the dinner meeting, Monday night, at the Pavillon d'Armenonville in Paris. ÂIt is not a festive meeting. Never France has known such a grave moment of crisis. We must find solutions to live together and find again a fruitful dialogue beyond the differences,Â chief rabbi of Paris, David Messas, told EJP.
Writer Marek Halter claimed that Âthere is a real malaise about the dangerous relation people still make between Jews and money,Â in a reference to information that Ilan HalimiÂs kidnappers targeted Jews because they thought Âthat all Jews are rich.Â
French Jews have been shocked by HalimiÂs killing and suspicions of the anti-Semitic motivation of the perpetrators were confirmed by Prime minister Dominique de Villepin himself.
Members of the Jewish community asked the representative body for a strong and clear stand at a march last Sunday in memory of the murdered man.
This led the CRIF to ask for a Âclear responseÂ from the authorities during the dinner. ÂIs Ilan dead because he is Jewish? Mr Prime Minister you owe the truth to the country,Â Roger Cukierman, the CRIFÂs president, who attended Ilan HalimiÂs burial last Friday, asked the guest of honour outright.
An emotional Villepin responded that Âall light has to be shed" on the odious and brutal murder of Halimi and declared that the judge investigating on the gang that kidnapped tortured and murdered the young phone salesman decided to retain the thesis of a racist crime.
ÂI want to tell IlanÂs family that all my thoughts go to them. I want them to know that we are going to do all what we can to arrest the authors of this barbarous crime and bring them to justice,Â the Prime minister said.
ÂAllow me to convey tonight a message to Ilan HalimiÂs family and tell them how much I share their sorrow,Â Villepin added.
French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who attended the dinner, was due to meet Tuesday afternoon with Ilan HalimiÂs family members and the CRIF leaders.
News that the murder has had anti-Semitic motivations came as the reported number of anti-Semitic acts in France has sharply declined last year.
ÂThis evolution does not mean that the roots of evil have disappeared,Â said Cukierman. ÂThe level of anti-Semitic acts is seven times higher than six years ago,Â he stressed. ÂItÂs the result of the mobilisation of all,Â Villepin said, hailing the determination of interior minister Sarkozy who, he said, Âis particularly devoted to this fight.Â
ÂFight against anti-Semitism is an absolute priority and a moral duty. It must help us build a society of the Republic and not of communities,Â the Prime minister stressed.
Villepin announced that Education minister Gilles de Robien will work out a Â« reference dossier Â» to help teachers and schools directors Âwho have to face with the scourge of anti-Semitism.Â