France awaits return of key suspect in youth's murder

23rd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 24, 2006 (AFP) - France was Friday awaiting the return from Ivory Coast of a gang leader accused of the kidnap, torture and murder of a young Jewish man, whose horrific death in the southern Paris suburbs has appalled the nation.

PARIS, Feb 24, 2006 (AFP) - France was Friday awaiting the return from Ivory Coast of a gang leader accused of the kidnap, torture and murder of a young Jewish man, whose horrific death in the southern Paris suburbs has appalled the nation.

Youssouf Fofana, 25, a convicted petty criminal of Ivorian origin, was arrested Wednesday in Abidjan where he is believed to have fled shortly after the dying Ilan Halimi was found near a railway line on February 13.

Under interrogation by Ivorian police officers, Fofana has confessed to the kidnapping but denies the murder, and also denies that he was motivated by anti-Semitism, French police sources said.

"Fofana has admitted that he went after a Jew because of his supposed money, but he said he is not an anti-Semite and didn't pick him for his religion," the source told AFP.

Initial hopes that Fofana would be extradited within hours back to France dimmed Friday, as legal procedures looked set to stretch through the weekend.

The prosecutor's office in Paris has dispatched an arrest warrant and extradition request, which will require Fofana to appear before a magistrate in Abidjan. But Ivorian prosecutor Raymond Tchimou said this could not take place until Monday.

Fofana was seen briefly Friday at police headquarters, apparently handcuffed and with his head in a black bag, on his way to the basement of the building.

Halimi, a 23 year-old telephone salesman, was discovered naked, bound and gagged in the southern Paris suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, where he had managed to crawl after being dumped nearby.

After being lured into a sex trap, he had been held for three weeks by a gang who sent ransom demands to his family. According to police, gang-members tortured Halimi with beatings and cigarette burns and set fire to him at the end apparently in order to burn off forensic evidence.

A total of 13 people have been placed under judicial investigation, including the young woman believed to have acted as the bait. But all said that the mastermind was Fofana, a local crime boss who styled himself "brain of the barbarians."

The murder struck horror in France's 500,000-strong Jewish community, where it was widely assumed Halimi had been targeted because he was Jewish.

After initial reluctance, the French authorities earlier this week said they too believe anti-Semitism was part of the gang's motives. On Tuesday the investigating magistrate heading the case opened the way for aggravated charges of racial hatred against gang members.

According to Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, four of six other intended victims of the gang were Jewish.

Sarkozy described the gang's selection of Jews because they were believed to have money as "anti-Semitism by association," but many newspaper commentators said it was indistinguishable from traditional anti-Semitism, in which Jews through the ages have been abused for their alleged wealth.

Meanwhile President Jacques Chirac and his wife Bernadette led political and religious leaders at a memorial service Thursday evening at one of Paris's main synagogues.

"The Jewish community is in mourning, the Republic is in mourning, France is in mourning," said Joel Mergui, the head of Paris' Jewish consistory.

Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk, who had called for Jews and non-Jews to take part in the ceremony, said: "From this point on, for France, there will be a time before Ilan and a time after Ilan."

A silent march is to be held through central Paris on Sunday, with delegations from the main political parties, Jewish and anti-racist organisations.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 

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