Money only motive in Halimi murder: suspect

6th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 5, 2006 (AFP) - The prime suspect in the shocking kidnapping, torture and murder of a young Frenchman insisted on the weekend that money, not anti-Semitism, was the only motive in the crime, according to investigators Sunday.

PARIS, March 5, 2006 (AFP) - The prime suspect in the shocking kidnapping, torture and murder of a young Frenchman insisted on the weekend that money, not anti-Semitism, was the only motive in the crime, according to investigators Sunday.

But the statements made by Youssouf Fofana, a 25-year-old French Muslim, after his extradition Saturday from Ivory Coast, did little to dispel a widespread perception in France that he was part of a gang that targeted the victim because he was Jewish.

He and other suspected members of the gang who allegedly abducted Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old mobile telephone salesman, in Paris in January are under criminal investigation for kidnapping and murder aggravated by anti-Semitism.

In all, 22 people are now under investigation, with 19 in custody, for having allegedly lured Halimi into a trap by using a young woman as "bait".

Gang members mutilated Halimi over three weeks before dropping him, dying, naked and bound, alongside a railway track outside Paris last month.

Much of France's 600,000-strong Jewish community, and many media, see the crime as the worst example yet of what they believe to be a rising trend of anti-Jewish sentiment in France, particularly among its five million Muslims whose families mostly hail from west and north Africa.

Yet investigators determined to present the most watertight case possible are being extremely careful in their handling of the affair. They are hesitant to label the crime as principally anti-Semitic before fully questioning the suspects and their motives.

Fofana, a petty criminal born in a Paris suburb, was arrested in Ivory Coast -- the country of his immigrant parents -- on February 15, two days after Halimi was found dying.

He was extradited to Paris on a French military plane on Saturday after failing to convince an Abidjan court he had Ivorian citizenship.

On his arrival, handcuffed and wearing a bullet-proof vest, he was immediately transported in a heavily armed police convoy to the investigating magistrates in charge of the murder case, who formally indicted him.

Fofana told the magistrates, Corinne Goetzmann and Baudoin Thouvenot, that he would cooperate with the investigation, according to a source close to the case.

He allegedly confessed -- as he already had while in custody in Abidjan -- that he had participated in the kidnapping of Halimi, but denied having killed him. He blamed other suspects not yet in custody for the death.

Several of the arrested suspects, however, have allegedly described Fofana as the leader of the gang, which called itself "the gang of barbarians".

At least one was said to have accused Fofana of having fatally knifed Halimi because the victim managed to lift a blindfold and saw Fofana's face.

Fofana also allegedly had the idea -- taken from US crime television shows -- to douse Halimi with acid to erase any fingerprints or DNA.

Police located many of the suspected gang members last month after one of the young women allegedly used as "sex bait" in failed kidnap attempts turned herself in following publication of a sketch of her face.

The gang is also suspected of having tried to abduct or threaten several individuals with the aim of extorting money.

The attempts dated back as far as 2004, and targeted Paris doctors and even the chairman of a state television network.

At least one of seven people targeted in the kidnap plots was Jewish, investigators said, adding that Fofana was being probed for those crimes, as well as for making death threats to Halimi's girlfriend.

Fofana allegedly said when questioned in Abidjan that Halimi was abducted because it was thought that, being Jewish, his family could pay the initial 450,000-euro ransom demanded.

But he also said in a television interview conducted while awaiting extradition that Halimi's kidnapping was carried out "for financial reasons".

A source close to the case said Fofana was being held in an unidentified prison outside the Paris area to avoid any communication with the other suspects in the case.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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