Police chase the 'brain of barbarians' to Ivory Coast

21st February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 21, 2006 (AFP) - French investigators were due to head to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to hunt the leader of a gang that tortured and murdered a young Jewish man near Paris, a crime now suspected to have been motivated by anti-Semitism.

PARIS, Feb 21, 2006 (AFP) - French investigators were due to head to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to hunt the leader of a gang that tortured and murdered a young Jewish man near Paris, a crime now suspected to have been motivated by anti-Semitism.

According to police, the alleged ringleader, a 25-year-old of Ivorian origin who styles himself — in English — as the "brain of barbarians", is believed to have fled to the west African country.

Two French officers were to travel to Abidjan to track down the suspect, who has been on the run with two accomplices since last week.

Twenty-three-year-old Ilan Halimi was kidnapped for ransom in late January and subjected to horrific tortures in a flat in a south Paris suburb, before being dumped in the street last week, naked, bound and handcuffed.

Covered in burns and torture marks, he died on the way to hospital.

A magistrate investigating his death has extended her inquiries to include the possibility that the crime was motivated by religious hatred, sources said Monday.

Halimi went missing after agreeing to a date with an unknown woman who approached him at his workplace, a telephone store in central Paris.

His murder sparked an uproar among the French Jewish community, who saw it as an overtly anti-Semitic attack, and several thousand people demonstrated in Paris at the weekend to demand justice.

Halimi's mother Ruth told an Israeli newspaper that her son would not have died had he not been Jewish, accusing police of downplaying a possible anti-Semitic motive to avoid alienating France's five-million strong Muslim community.

French officials, who still believe the gang's primary aim was extortion, said on Monday that anti-Semitism may also have played a part in the crime, based on statements made by several of the 13 suspects arrested late last week.

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

Six people, under investigation for kidnapping and sequestration, could now face aggravated charges of being motivated by religious hatred.

A total of 10 people have been placed under investigation — the first step to indictment — over the crime, following a raid on a housing estate south of Paris on Friday. Two more were to be brought before a judge later Tuesday.

Several French newspapers devoted their front pages on Tuesday to the case, focusing on the distress of the Jewish community.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was to receive Halimi's brother-in-law as well as a delegation from the French Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF) on Tuesday afternoon.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told Jewish leaders on Monday that "all light has to be shed" on the murder.

Mobile phone text messages and emails showing pictures of Halimi, bound and blindfolded, were sent to his family along with demands for a EUR 400,000 ransom.

Police say they have identified six other people targeted by the gang, not all of whom were Jewish, and are looking into a possible link to a racket aimed at doctors in Paris last year.

Investigators last week 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 attempted kidnappings turned herself in and led them to the gang.

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

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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