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French gang on trial over harrowing murder of Jewish man

Text by Nicolas DE SCITIVAUX

Latest update : 2009-04-30

The trial of the “Barbarians” gang has begun in Paris as its leader, Youssouf Fofana (photo), faces charges of killing a young Jewish man in 2006. After Wednesday the trial will proceed behind closed doors, away from the media spotlight.

France will be riveted to an unsettling trial about to unfold in Paris over the gruesome killing of a Jewish man in a bleak council estate in the Parisian suburbs. "Barbarians" gang leader Youssouf Fofana stands trial on Wednesday for the murder of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi in 2006. Also on trial are 26 alleged accomplices, including teenagers and a dozen women.

In February 2006, Halimi was kidnapped, held and tortured for three weeks in a cellar in a Paris suburb before he was left to die, handcuffed to a tree near a railway station. Today, Halimi’s family, who had been in contact with the kidnappers, say more could have been done to save the young man.
  
A "perverted megalomaniac"
 
Fofana, who is 28 years old, has seen at least 37 lawyers – including Jacques Vergès, who defended Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and terrorist Carlos the Jackal – who either refused to defend him or were dismissed by the suspect.

Prosecutors describe Fofana as a "perverted megalomaniac" who instructed accomplices to target Jews for ransom kidnappings "because they are loaded with dough (money)".
 
The French-born son of Ivorian immigrants is the only defendant facing a life sentence if convicted for the murder. Fifteen others are facing charges of kidnapping and sequestering.

Tortured and burnt alive
 

On January 20, 2006, Halimi, an employee of a Paris mobile phone store, was duped into following an attractive young woman into a Parisian suburb where he was abducted before being locked up in Bagneux, south of Paris.

The kidnappers then demanded a ransom of 450,000 euros from Halimi’s family in exchange for the young man’s release.
 

Several photographs and video and audio messages of Halimi pleading for his life were released by his captors, showing him blindfolded and gaunt.
 
After failed attempts at concluding a ransom deal, Halimi was found on February 13. He died on his way to the hospital.
 
When a suspected accomplice turned herself in to the police, the authorities managed to catch the “Barbarians” ringleader on the run in the Ivory Coast. Arrested on February 23, he was deported to France a few days later.
   
Halimi’s mother slams authorities

Ruth Halimi, the mother of the victim, expressed indignation over the authorities' handling of the case, saying the police investigation was full of shortcomings.
 
She questioned officers’ decision not to make public the Photofit image of the woman who was used as “bait” because this could endanger Halimi's life. “On the contrary, I think this could have saved him,” she wrote in her book about the case, “24 Days”.
 
Ruth Halimi is expected to ask the court to open the hearings to the public on the first day of the trial to provide a full and open account of her son's death.
 
“The vow of silence killed him,” she said in an interview with French media on Monday, “I think debates should be public, so that everyone can see these youths who tortured Ilan.”

 
 

Date created : 2009-04-29

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