French police take kidnap probe to Ivory Coast

22nd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

ABIDJAN, Feb 21, 2006 (AFP) - French investigators arrived in Ivory Coast on Tuesday to hunt the leader of a gang that tortured and murdered a young Jewish man near Paris, a crime thought to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitism, diplomats told AFP.

ABIDJAN, Feb 21, 2006 (AFP) - French investigators arrived in Ivory Coast on Tuesday to hunt the leader of a gang that tortured and murdered a young Jewish man near Paris, a crime thought to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitism, diplomats told AFP.

The 25-year-old convicted petty criminal is of Ivorian origin. He styles himself -- in English -- as the "brain of barbarians" and is believed to have fled to the west African country last week.

French President Jacques Chirac telephoned the parents of the victim, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, on Tuesday and pledged "full light" would be shed on the case to determine if anti-Semitism was behind the crime, according to a spokesman.

Meanwhile Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that four of the six other people targeted unsuccessfully by the gang were Jewish, reinforcing suspicions of a possible anti-Semitic motive.

"These thugs had mainly sordid, criminal motives -- money. But they were convinced that -- quote, unquote -- 'Jews have money' and that even if those they kidnapped did not, the community would rally round," he said.

The kidnapping and murder of the young Halimi, who was tortured for three weeks in a suburban flat and left to die in the street, sparked an uproar among the French Jewish community.

Halimi's mother Ruth told AFP her son "would not have been chosen if he had not been Jewish" and called for the government to make examples of those responsible.

"For such barbarity to exist in France in 2006 is impossible and cannot be accepted," she said.

French officials believe the gang's main aim was extortion but said on Monday that anti-Semitism also appeared to have played a part.

According to a judicial official, at least one suspect said Halimi was targeted because "Jews have money and they are a close-knit community", while another said he was burned on the face with a cigarette because of his religion.

Ten people have been placed under investigation over the murder, of whom six could face aggravated charges of being motivated by religious hatred.

Police announced three more arrests -- two women and a man - in the cities of Aix-en-Provence and Marseille in the south of France on Tuesday. They were being questioned as possible accomplices.

More than a thousand people demonstrated in Paris on Sunday to demand justice and the French Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF) has called for a second day of nationwide protests during the coming weekend.

France's chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, cut short a visit to Israel to chair a meeting of Jewish leaders in Paris on Tuesday evening.

Halimi vanished in late January after agreeing to a date with an unknown woman who approached him at his workplace, a telephone shop in central Paris.

Mobile phone text messages and emails showing pictures of Halimi, bound and blindfolded, were sent to his family along with demands for a 400,000-euro (475,000-dollar) ransom.

Investigators traced the crime to a gang on a housing estate in the southern suburbs of Paris, after a young woman who served as a lure in several botched kidnappings turned herself in and led them to the others.

She has been detained and faces charges of failure to report a crime.

The interior minister said that pro-Palestinian and Salafist Islamist documents were found during house searches by investigators but warned against drawing any hasty conclusions concerning the group's motives.

But the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, in a letter to Sarkozy, said it was clear "that their motive was Islamist anti-Semitism" and called for France to prevent "Jihadist violence, hatred and anti-Semitism from taking root in France".

Halimi's mother, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, accused police of downplaying a possible anti-Semitic motive to avoid alienating France's five-million strong Muslim community.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article