PARIS, Feb 17, 2006 (AFP) - French police were hunting Friday for the mastermind of a kidnapping ring suspected of using sexual advances to lure a young man to his death, following the arrest of a dozen gang members south of Paris.
They are suspected of abducting a 23-year-old Parisian, Ilan Halimi, and subjecting him to horrific tortures before dumping his naked and mutilated body in the street near a suburban train station on Monday.
Handcuffed, gagged and covered in burns and torture marks, he died on the way to hospital.
Twelve suspects, aged 17 to 32, were held in overnight raids in the south Paris suburbs, most on a housing estate in Bagneux, while a 13th was arrested in Belgium, Paris state prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin told a press conference.
Police are still hunting for the gang's suspected leader, a 26-year-old black man named Youssef Fofana, who nicknames himself "Brain of Barbarians" and is described as "extremely dangerous".
Halimi went missing in late January after agreeing to a date with an unknown woman who approached him at his workplace, in a Jewish neighbourhood of Paris.
Using beautiful women as 'bait', the gang are thought to have attempted six or seven other botched kidnappings, Marin said.
Halimi's abduction has sent a shockwave through France's Jewish community, since Halimi and several other targets were Jewish, leading France's Jewish council, the CRIF, to issue an appeal for calm on Friday.
Some 500 people attended the young man's funeral at a Jewish cemetery in Paris on Friday.
But the Paris prosecutor said there was "so far no evidence of an anti-Semitic motive" and that the gang was apparently driven by money.
Text messages and emails showing pictures of him, captive and blindfolded, had been sent to his family along with demands for a 400,000-euro ransom.
According to the prosecutor, however, Halimi was tortured in scenes reminiscent of the abuse of prisoners at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib jail.
Held prisoner in a Bagneux apartment, "naked, with his face covered," he was abused in "a repetition of scenes seen elsewhere", the prosecutor said.
Marin also said the ringleader had repeated his ransom demands in a telephone call to Halimi's family on Thursday, days after the young man's body was found, threatening them with death unless they paid.
Police quoted in the French press had questioned whether money was the real motive, one saying the gang appeared to playing a sadistic 'game'.
The gang had lowered its ransom demands from EUR 400,000 to 100,000 then dropping them as low as EUR 5,000, before it eventually broke off contact.
The breakthrough in the investigation came on Thursday, when a young blonde woman turned herself in to police, saying she had recognised herself in a computer-generated portrait of a suspect circulated to the press.
She confirmed that she had been asked to entice two young men, without knowing what they risked, but had failed to draw them in.
The young women, who has also been detained, agreed to lead police to the other gang members.
The gang's method of using sex to lure in kidnap victims mirrors the plot of a 1990s French film, 'L'Appat' (The Bait).
Subject: French news
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