The Affair of the Gang of Barbarians
The affair of the Gang of Barbarians (French: l'affaire du gang des barbares) was a kidnapping and torture case that gripped and shocked France both because of the fear of resurgence of antisemitism (because the crime was motivated by antisemitism and money) and also because of the vicious nature of the crime committed.
A total of 27 people were accused as implicated in the crime and were tried for kidnapping and murder in 2009. Gang leader Youssouf Fofana (born 1980 in Paris to immigrants from Côte d'Ivoire) was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 22 years. Others received shorter prison sentences, some suspended, and three were acquitted. While Fofana's life sentence was definite, 14 of the 27 verdicts were appealed by the prosecution. The convictions were upheld on appeal in December 2010.
- 1 Timeline of the crime
- 2 Reburial in Israel
- 3 Kidnappers and associates
- 4 Kidnapping and investigation
- 5 Public interest and reaction
- 6 2009 trial
- 7 2010 retrial
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Timeline of the crime
According to press reports based on information from French criminal investigation authorities, as of February 25, 2006, the crime was believed to have happened as follows:
- On January 20, 2006, Ilan Halimi was lured by an attractive seventeen-year-old girl who called herself Yalda (of French-Iranian origin), to an apartment block in the Parisian banlieues.
- There Halimi was overwhelmed by a youth gang and kept prisoner for twenty-four days.
- Halimi was initially guarded by four teenagers. During the following three-week period, his kidnappers, at least 19 of them, beat him all over his body, especially his testicles, completely wrapping his head in duct tape, except for his mouth, so he could breathe and eat through a straw, stabbing him, burning his body and face with acid, cigarettes and lighters. They also tried to extract a ransom (initially of 450,000 Euros) from his family.
- Halimi was found naked, handcuffed, and bound with nylon rope to a tree about 40 yards (37 metres) inside a woodlot near a railway station, just outside Paris, on February 13, 2006. It was reported that more than 80% of his body had been burned with acid, as well as gasoline (possibly to destroy evidence of his captors' DNA), to the point that he was difficult to recognize. He had severe contusions, blood blisters, and hematomas covering most of his body (to the point that he was more blue than flesh-colored), multiple broken bones, one ear and one big toe missing. Most of his penis appeared to have been burned off, and his testicles were described as " like blackened oranges." Halimi died en route to a hospital.
- A woman, referred to as Audrey L., turned herself in after the police had released a photo-fit picture. She pointed to the Barbarians, a gang of African and North African immigrants who had perpetrated similar abductions in the past. In the subsequent days, French police arrested 15 persons in connection with the crime. The leader of the gang, Youssouf Fofana, fled to his parents' homeland of Côte d'Ivoire with the woman used as bait. They were arrested on February 23 in Abidjan and extradited to France on March 4, 2006.
Reburial in Israel
Halimi was initially buried in the Cimetière parisien de Pantin. At the request of the family, the remains of Ilan Halimi were reburied in Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Israel on Friday, February 9, 2007. It was timed to allow his first Yartzeit, on Tu Bishvat, to pass before the reburial. The date and time (11:30 am) also marked "exactly one year after his burial in France according to the Jewish Calendar."
Kidnappers and associates
The crime was committed by a group of persons belonging to a gang calling themselves les barbares (The Barbarians). Many of them have criminal records and have been imprisoned.
During the investigation it appeared that key members of the group were probably implicated in at least 15 other cases of kidnapping or racketeering. Posing as members of the National Front for the Liberation of Corsica or members of the French division of the PFLP, they threatened several high-ranking CEOs including Jérôme Clément, president of the European TV operator Arte, Rony Brauman, former president and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, and the CEO as well as another high-ranking member of a large company selling home appliances. They sent threatening pictures of an unknown man dressed as a middle-eastern Arab in front of a picture of Osama Bin Laden. In another case, the owner of a large grocery store was directed to pay 100,000 euros.
In total, 27 individuals were under investigation and were subsequently put on trial. Among these:
- Youssouf Fofana (August 2, 1980), the self-proclaimed Brain of the Barbarians. He was born in Paris to immigrants from Côte d'Ivoire and served time in prison for various crimes including armed robbery, car theft and resisting arrest. In an interview he denied killing Halimi, but showed no sign of contrition for his part in this extreme cruel crime.
- Christophe Martin-Vallet, nicknamed Moko, a French man originally from Martinique, specializing in computers. He appears to have masterminded the kidnapping and to have been the lieutenant of Fofana.
- He is suspected of other kidnappings and was responsible for the honeypot activities of the girls.
- Jean-Christophe Soumbou, also known as Craps, Crim or Marc. Fellow inmate of Fofana. Imprisoned for car theft with violence. Supplied the car with which Halimi was transported. He is also suspected of other kidnappings.
- Jean-Christophe Gavarin, usually known as JC or by his nickname Zigo, one of the individuals who tortured Halimi. He was a minor at the time of the crime. He had been expelled from school and had been involved with the law because of a theft and possession of cannabis. He has admitted to pushing a burning joint in the face of Halimi.
- Samir Aït Abdelmalek, nicknamed Smiler, who was the owner of the apartment and is considered the right-hand man of Fofana (he had known Fofana for more than ten years). Had been convicted for possession of drugs and car theft. He also furnished the acid used to burn Halimi.
- Jérémy Pastisson involved in a number of kidnapping cases, his car was used to transport Halimi.
- Tiffenn Gouret, former girlfriend of Jean-Christophe Gavarin and friend of Arbabzadeh, supplied Fonfana with "bait". She is also suspected in other kidnappings.
- Sorour Arbabzadeh nicknamed Yalda (also known as "Emma"), a seventeen-year-old French-Iranian girl who acted as appât (bait, honeypot) to entrap Halimi.
- Sabrina Fontaine, was used as bait in other kidnapping cases.
- Audrey Lorleach, nicknamed Léa or Natacha, young student who was used as bait. She turned herself in and served 9 months in prison.
Others who were implicated:
- Gilles Serrurier (1967), nicknamed the concierge, was the caretaker of the apartment building to which Halimi was taken and who lent the gang the apartment and cellar in which they held and tortured Halimi.
- Yahia Touré Kaba, nicknamed Yaks, one of the jailers (gaolers).
- Fabrice Polygone, one of the jailers (gaolers).
- Jérôme Ribeiro, known as Coup de Tête (headbutt). Although he had left the group, he was promised a lot of money. One of the jailers (gaolers).
- Guiri Oussivo N'Gazi and Francis Oussivo N'Gazi, friends of Ribeiro who acted as one of the jailers (gaolers).
- Nabil Moustafa, known as Bilna, pizza delivery man, one of the jailers (gaolers).
- Cédric Birot Saint-Yves, known as Babas, friend of Nabil Moustafa, one of the jailers (gaolers).
Many others were implicated but their direct connection to the crime could not be proven.
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On February 22, 2008, six members of a group calling themselves Barbarians assaulted 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in the same Paris suburb of Bagneux where Halimi was kidnapped. For two hours the attackers tortured the young man. One shoved cigarette butts into his mouth, another took issue with Roumi's Jewish origin (paternal), grabbed correction fluid and scrawled sale juif ("dirty Jew") and sale PD ("dirty faggot") on his forehead. When the issue of his sexual orientation arose, one of them placed a condom on the tip of a stick and shoved it in Roumi's mouth. The six men proceeded to scream at him and threaten that he would die the way Halimi did. The men were all arrested.
Kidnapping and investigation
The kidnapping seems to be motivated by a combination of antisemitism and a desire for money. Although the torture was largely directed at his genitals, there was no evidence of sexual assault or a sexual motive.
The kidnappers originally thought Halimi was wealthy because he came from a Moroccan Jewish family, though he came from the same poor and working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris as the kidnappers did. According to then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, members of the gang confessed that they believed all Jews to be rich and it motivated them to target several Jews.
The kidnappers demanded ransom, initially EUR 450,000, eventually decreasing to EUR 5,000. It has been claimed that the family of Halimi was told that if they could not raise the money, they should get it from the Jewish community.
In order to convince Halimi's parents their son had been kidnapped, the abductors sent a picture of the young man being threatened by a gun and holding a newspaper to prove the date and time.
The French police were heavily criticized because they initially believed that antisemitism was not a factor in the crime. Police have attributed to the banlieues' gang subculture a "poisonous mentality that designates Jews as enemies along with other 'outsiders,'" such as Americans, mainstream French, and Europeans in general. "If they could have gotten their hands on a (non-Jewish) French cop in the same way, they probably would have done the same thing," a retired police chief opined. This may have hampered the original investigation. Antisemitism is an aggravating circumstance (circonstance aggravante) in a murder case in France.
Ruth Halimi, Ilan's mother, subsequently co-authored a book with Émilie Frèche titled 24 jours: la vérité sur la mort d'Ilan Halimi, released April 2009. In the book, Ruth claimed that French police never suspected her son's kidnappers would kill the 23-year-old after three weeks in captivity in 2006, partly because they would not face the antisemitic character of the crime (as reported in the French daily Le Figaro). Émilie Frèche stated that "by denying the anti-semitic character, ... [the police] did not figure out the profile of the gang." The book details how Ilan's parents were told to stay silent during the ordeal and were ordered not to seek aid in order to pay the ransom, nor show their son's photo to people who might have come forward with information about his whereabouts.
In an interview with Elle Magazine on March 27, 2009, Ruth Halimi stated that "The police were completely off the mark. They thought they were dealing with classic bandits, but these people were beyond the norm." Halimi stated that she wrote the book to "alert public opinion to the danger of anti-semitism which has returned in other forms, so that a story like this can never happen again".
Public interest and reaction
The case was widely reported on both in and outside France.
Six French associations called for a mass demonstration against racism and antisemitism in Paris on Sunday, February 26. Between 33,000 (as estimated by police) and 80,000 to 200,000 (as estimated by the organizers) people participated in Paris, as well as thousands around the country. Present were public figures such as Philippe Douste-Blazy, François Hollande, Lionel Jospin and Nicolas Sarkozy. Also among the participants were Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris Mosque and Chairman of the Council of Muslims in France, and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. Right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers was booed by far-left militants and had to leave under police guard.
On May 9, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing titled "Tools for Combatting Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education" chaired by Commission Co-Chairman Chris Smith (a Republican representative) who said: "[Halimi's] tragedy made brutally clear that Jews are still attacked because they are Jews, and that our work to eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms and manifestations is far from done."
A number of books have been written about the case. Among them:
- 24 jours: la vérité sur la mort d'Ilan Halimi; Ruth Halimi and Émily Frèche; Éditions du Seuil; April 2009; ISBN 978-2-02-091028-6
- Si c'est un Juif : Réflexions sur la mort d'Ilan Halimi ; Adrien Barrot; Editions Michalon; January 2007; ISBN 978-2-84186-364-8
- Ilan Halimi, le canari dans la mine : Comment en est-on arrivé là ?; Yaël König et al; Editions Yago; June 2009; ISBN 978-2-916209-70-8
- Des Barbares Dans la Cité. Reflexions Autour du Meurtre d'Ilan Halimi; David Mascré; Éditions de l'Infini; April 2009; ISBN 978-2-918011-05-7
The trial, which started on April 29, 2009, was conducted behind closed doors because two of the suspects were minors. In France court cases implicating minors are held behind closed doors.
The Halimi family wanted the trial to be conducted openly. Francis Szpiner spoke for Ruth Halimi saying: A public trial would have helped better understand the criminal machine, to make parents and teenagers reflect. It's the law of silence that killed her son, it would be unbearable for the trial to remain silent.
The trial took 10 weeks.
Incidents during and around the trial
- A number of videos with Fonfana appeared on YouTube.
- Fofana appeared in court wearing a white T-shirt, smiling, pointing to heaven and saying Allāhu Akbar. He claimed he had nothing to say and would be silent to the grave. When asked his name and date of birth he answered: Je m'appelle arabe, africaine révolte armée barbare salafiste. Je suis né le 13 février 2006 à Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois. (My name is arab, armed african rebellion salafist barbarian army and I was born on February 13, 2006 in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois: the date and place Ilan Halimi was found).
- Fofana threw a shoe at the empty benches and again when he was taken down, shouting All the Jews in the world are there [in the empty box], they are my enemies. This is an Arab attack with a booby-trapped shoe!
- Fofana claimed in court that he had friends who would "take pictures to identify people." Francis Szpiner, lawyer for the Halimi family, believed that Fofana was alluding to the jurors, and was implying that he was going to put a price on their heads.
Verdict and sentencing
Of the 27 people on trial, 3 were acquitted.
|Birot Saint-Yves, Cédric||
|Touré Kaba, Yayia||
|Oussivo N'Gazi, Francis||
|Oussivo N'Gazi, Guiri||
A number of others, whose implication was not direct, or related to other activities of the gang, received smaller sentences. Three persons were acquitted. Notable is that one person, for whom originally no sentence was asked, received a suspended sentence.
After the trial
Sorour Arbabzadeh, the then-17-year-old French-Iranian girl who acted as bait to trap Halimi, was sentenced to 9 years imprisonment. While serving her sentence in the Versailles women's prison, she seduced a guard and the director of the prison, Florent Gonçalves, who is now imprisoned himself. For this she was sentenced to four months imprisonment.
The sentences issued after the first trial were criticized as too lenient by some parties, while others such as the attorney general Philippe Bilger found the sentences "exemplary". Minister of Justice Michèle Alliot-Marie, demanded an appeal of 8 of the 17 heaviest verdicts.
Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, France's main Jewish organization, said that a law may soon be available that would preclude closed-door trials in this type of case. "Perhaps in a year's time there will be a new trial, and perhaps it will be public."
A Halimi relative said: "The important thing for me is not handing out heavier jail terms, honestly. The important thing is to open this to the press and public and make it a learning experience."
The retrial was officially announced Monday July 10, 2009. It started on October 25, 2010, and ended on December 17, 2010, with all convictions upheld and time added to some sentences.
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The verdict was handed down late on Friday as Shabbat already started — by nine judges and a nine-member juryMissing or empty
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