Ilan Halimi (11 October 1982 - 13 February 2006) was a young French Jew (of Moroccan parentage) kidnapped on 21 January 2006 by a gang of Muslim immigrants called the "Barbarians" and subsequently tortured, over a period of three weeks, ending with a torture that caused his death (although the death occurred after he was found and while he was being taken to a hospital). 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 immigrants in its society.
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 21 January, Halimi, aged 23, was lured by an attractive 17-year-old French-Iranian girl to an apartment block in the Parisian banlieues (suburbs, which are often associated with the poor).
- There Halimi was overwhelmed by a youth gang and kept prisoner for twenty-four days. During that time, his kidnappers tortured him by stabbing him with knives, burning his face and body with cigarattes and beating him in order to try to extract a ransom of initially EUR 450,000 from his family. As the days wore on, his captors turned increasingly cruel, stripping off his clothes and beating, scratching and cutting him. A burning cigarette was pressed into his forehead. His kidnappers finally poured flammable liquid on him and set him on fire. 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 suburbs, 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 alleged 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.
Implicated in the crime are the members of a youth gang calling themselves "les barbares" (the Barbarians), many of whom were Muslim. The people so far arrested are mostly unemployed children of immigrants from African countries. In total, 21 people are suspects, of which 14 are under arrest by the police and of which 11 are being charged with kidnapping and murder with the aggravating circumstance of antisemitism.
While presumed innocent, the following is the list of suspects alleged to have been involved:
- Youssouf Fofana (2 August, 1980), aged 25, the self-proclaimed "brain of the Barbarians". He was born in Paris to immigrants from Ivory Coast and served three to four years in prison for various crimes including armed robbery and resisting arrest. In an interview he denied killing Halimi, but showed no sign of remorse for his extreme cynicism.
- Christophe M-V aka "Moko", a 22-year-old French man, specializing in computers. He appears to have masterminded the kidnappings and to have been the lieutenant of Fofana. He was monitoring the honeypot activities of the girls.
- Yalda, a seventeen-year-old French-Iranian girl who acted as a honeypot to lure Halimi into the gang's lair.
- Samir Aït Abdelmalek, aka "Smiler" aged 28, the "right hand" of Fofana; a father of two children and ex-convict for drug-related crimes.
- Jean-Christophe Soumbou aka "Marc" aka "Crim" aka "Craps" (* 1986)
- "Zigo", aged 17, one of the individuals who tortured Ilan.
- "Giri", aged 19, from the Comoros, described by neighbours as a "drifter".
- "Nabil", aged 18, with Egyptian-French origins, described by neighbours as a "sweet little boy".
- Jérôme Ribeiro (February 1986), a French-Portuguese man. His testimony reportedly led to the identification of the other members of the gang.
- "Audrey", a French woman.
- "Murielle", a French woman.
- "Almane", an African (country uncertain).
- "J.C.", a French man.
- "Yahia", a French man of West African roots.
- the concierge of the project to which Halimi was taken, who lent his attackers the apartment and cellar in which they tortured and killed him.
- Three or more other unidentified persons.
The motives for the crime
The question of whether the kidnappers were motivated (primarily) by the hoped-for ransom, or by antisemitism, has emerged as a focal point of the political discussion of the case. At the present early stage of the inquiry, there is no clear-cut answer, and it may well turn out that both motives, or other motives altogether, played a part for some of the alleged perpetrators.
Indications for money as a motive
- The kidnappers demanded ransom, initially EUR 450,000; this then dropped to EUR 5,000.
- Early into the investigation, on 16 February, the public prosecutor charged with the case, Jean-Claude Marin, told Parisian Jewish radio that "no element of the current investigation could link this murder to an anti-Semitic declaration or action."
- Youssef Fofana, who also denies being the mastermind of the kidnapping, has been reported to have said that it was only for the money, without any antisemitic motivation.
- 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.
Indications for antisemitism as a motive
- According to then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, members of the gang confessed that their belief in the ubiquity of Jewish wealth led to their targeting several Jews, culminating with Halimi. This starkly contrasts with the reality of the Halimi family's modest circumstances; they inhabited the same banlieue as the attackers.
- The police reportedly found "Islamic fundamentalist and pro-Palestinian literature" during one arrest. However, the suspects are not known extremists, a police intelligence official said.
- 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 prime minister, Dominique de Villepin declared that the "odious crime was antisemitic, and that antisemitism is not acceptable in France.
Police have attributed to the banlieues' gang subculture a "poisonous mentality that designates Jews as enemies along with other 'outsiders,'" such as Americans, mainstream French, and Westerners in general. "If they could have gotten their hands on a (non-Jewish) French cop in the same way, they probably would have done the same thing," a retired police chief opined.
Reaction in France
The case has found an enormous echo in the French media and in the French public. Six French associations called for a mass demonstration against racism and antisemitism in Paris on Sunday, 26 February. Between 33,000 (as estimated by police) and 80,000 to 200,000 (as estimated by the organizers) people participated in Paris, as well as thousands around the country. Also present were public figures such as Nicolas Sarkozy, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger and Lionel Jospin. Right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers was booed by far-left militants and had to leave under police guard.
Reactions outside of France
The event caused an international outcry
On May 9, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing titled "Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education" chaired by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) who said: "His tragedy made brutally clear that Jews are still attacked because they are Jews, and that our work to eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms and manifestations is far from done."
On February 22, 2008, six members of the "Barbarians" assaulted 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in the same Paris suburb of Bagneux
where Halimi was killed. For two hours the attackers tortured the young man. One shoved cigarette butts into his mouth, another took issue with Roumi's Jewish origin (paternal), grabbed correction fluid and scrawled "dirty Jew" and an anti-gay insult on his forehead. When the issue of his sexual orientation arose, one of them placed a condom on the tip of a stick and shoved it in Roumi's mouth. The six men proceeded to scream at him and threaten that he would die the way Halimi did.
- The barbarians of Europe: The brutal murder of Ilan Halimi, By Tom Gross, The Jerusalem Post, 28 February 2006
- Killing in France Seen as 'Wake-Up Call', Washington Post, 25 February 2006
- French Officials Now Say Killing of Jew Was in Part a Hate Crime, New York Times, 23 February 2006
- Anti-Semitism seen rising among France's Muslims, Boston Globe, 13 March 2006
- Kline, Brett Mother of murdered French Jew speaks out on what went wrong. Around the Jewish World. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved on 2007-09-03..
- Torture-slaying raises fear of anti-Semitic resurgence, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 February 2006
Remembering Ilan Halimi