Burial ceremony for Ilan Halimi at the cemetery of Pantin, near Paris
Photo: Alain Azria
Thirteen people, all members of a dangerous and extremely violent gang, have been arrested following an investigation into the murder of a young Jewish man in the Paris area, French police announced Friday.
Meanwhile a difference of opinion arose surrounding the motivation for the murder. The Paris public prosecutor declared that “anti-semitism did not appear to be the motive” of the kidnappers of the 23-year-old Ilan Halimi,” while family members of the murdered man suspect the contrary.
Trying to calm the Jewish community’s emotion and anger, the umbrella group of French Jewish secular organisations, CRIF, issued a statement on Friday calling on the Jewish community “to keep calm, cautious and wait for developments in the investigation.”
Among the arrested suspects – aged between 17 and 32- are three women who were used by the gang to attract their prey. They were all arrested in the Paris suburbs.
All these persons come from the city of Bagneux, in the Paris region, where Ilan Halimi has been detained.
A person living in Brussels was also said to be under international arrest warrant.
Dangerous gang chief
According to an informed source, the head of the gang has been identified as the 26-year-old Youssef Fofana, a Black Muslim who is calling himself “brain of the barbarians." He is already known to the police services as “extremely dangerous.”
Fofana has not yet been arrested but an identikit of him was handed to the press by the Paris public prosecutor, Jean-Claude Marin.
“He knows he is searched,” Marin said Friday.
“He insulted Ilan Halimi’s family members by calling them yesterday and issuing death threats if they did not pay the ransom,” he added.
The investigation by some 200 policemen quickened after Ilan Halimi was found last Monday severely wounded, naked and hand-cuffed along a railway track in the suburb of Saint Genevieve des Bois, 30 kilometres south of Paris. Halimi’s body was found three weeks after he was kidnapped by a gang.
A person suspected of having helped the kidnappers was arrested on Tuesday. Police issued a call for witnesses and published two identikit pictures of a “blonde” woman who was used to charm and attract Ilan Halimi, as well as the picture of a suspect with his face mainly masked.
The woman, who felt she had been recognized by friends, later gave herself up to police.
The victim was burnt and cut on 80 percent of his body, died of his wounds as he was taken to hospital.
According to police, Halimi, a cellular phone salesman, was attracted by a young Arab “pleasant” woman who came to his place of work, on Voltaire boulevard, in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, on January 17. The woman apparently charmed him and arranged an appointment.
Ilan Halimi was kidnapped on the night of January 21, when he was supposed to meet the young woman.
After the kidnapping, the gang contacted Ilan’s family and demanded a ransom of between 450,000 and 500,000 euros.
Dispute on the anti-Semitic character
Speaking on a Parisian Jewish radio on Thursday, the Paris public prosecutor said that “no element of the current investigation could link this murder to an anti-Semitic declaration or action.”
Police even didn’t mention the Jewish identity of the victim. “It’s out of question to draw a line to the victim’s membership of the community,” Jean-Claude Marin told French Jewish radio Radio Shalom.
Judiciary police chief Francois Jaspar said that at least three other similar attempted kidnapping have been reported since last December, none were successful.
In each case, one of three young women, a blond, a brunette and an Arab woman, or a young man would attract the victim on a date, during which the victim would be attacked by the rest of the gang. Ilan Halimi was the only victim caught by the gang.
Police meanwhile warned against “charming approaches” by “pretty young girls or men.”
Family sees anti-Semitism
For their part, Jewish community security services and Ilan Halimi’s family suspect that the crime may have been motivated by anti-Semitism.
“We think there is anti-Semitism in this affair,” Rafi, Ilan’s brother in law, told the European Jewish Press.
”First because the killers tried to kidnap at least two other Jews and secondly because of what they said on the phone,” he added.
”When we said we didn’t have 500,000 euros to give them they answered we should go to the synagogue and get it,” Rafi stressed. “They also recited verses from the Koran. We didn’t know what they were saying but the police told us."
"Ilan was the pillar of the family. He was the only man and he protected and supported his two sisters and his mother. He was an extremely honest, mature and cheerful man,” his brother-in-law said to EJP.
"We fear that the fact that Ilan was Jewish aggravated his case and caused his kidnappers to behave as Islamists. Why did the kidnappers, once they discovered that Ilan’s family was not wealthy, as they had thought, not let him go and instead tortured him to death?," asked Sammy Ghozlan, head of the French Anti-Semitism Vigilance Bureau.
Jewish umbrella group cautious
In its statement, CRIF said it was in contact with the French authorities, in particular the offices of the Prime minister and the interior minister.
“We have asked the authorities to do everything possible to find the perpetrators as quickly as possible and to establish if the fact that the victim was Jewish was a determining factor in the tragic murder,” the Jewish umbrella group said.
“According to the authorities, it’s about a gang from the suburbs whose act was not anti-Semitic in nature and which in the past attempted to kidnap persons who were not Jewish,” CRIF added.
A Thousand people attended the burial ceremony of Ilan Halimi Friday morning at the cemetery of Pantin, in the Paris suburbs.
Several shops of the Boulevard Voltaire didn't open Friday in a gesture of solidarity with Ilan Halimi's family.