John Rosenthal May 31st, 2009 at 7:05 pm 3 Comments
Given that the trial has been closed to both the public and press, it is difficult to know what exactly has been going on in the trial of Youssouf Fofana and the other members of his so-called “Gang of Barbarians.” As discussed in my earlier FF report here, Fofana and twenty six co-defendants are on trial in Paris for the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi. In 2006, the 23-year-old French Jew was held in captivity under horrifying conditions for over three weeks and then repeatedly stabbed, set on fire and left to die.
One French journalist has, however, developed a kind of “work-around” in order to be able to report on the trial. Elsa Vigoreux of the weekly Nouvel Observateur has been publishing a frequently updated blog on the proceedings based on interviews with persons who are authorized to attend the trial sessions. The sources are not named. Vigoreux’s blog is the only detailed public record available of the trial.
Last Thursday, Youssouf Fofana admitted that he was responsible for killing Ilan Halimi and that he personally doused Halimi in lighter fluid and set him on fire. According to Vigoreux’s account, Fofana referred to the hearsay testimony of his lieutenant Samir Ait Abdelmalek for the other details. Abdelmalek has previously reported that Fofana told him that he stabbed Halimi in the throat and tried to “cut his neck.” On Vigoreux’s account, Fofana said he had no regrets about killing Halimi and even added: “I am proud.” The remark is highly significant. As noted in my earlier FF report, French authorities and the French media have persistently tried to minimize the role played by anti-Semitism in the crime. But if Fofana’s motives were strictly economic, why should he be “proud” of having killed Halimi?
Numerous other details reported by Vigoreux likewise suggest that anti-Semitism played a more fundamental role in the crime than has hitherto been acknowledged by French authorities. Here a selection from the trial sessions earlier in the week.
On Monday, the court finished considering the case of Michaël Douieb: one of several other Parisian Jews that Fofana and his gang had attempted to kidnap before successfully abducting Ilan Halimi. Douieb was lured into an ambush in an apartment building in the southern banlieue of Paris by one of the young women whom the gang used as “honey-pots.” There he would be beaten up and bound by gang members. The gang members fled, however, when they heard residents approaching. A picture of the bloodied Michaël Douieb appears, incidentally, in the same issue of the magazine Choc that a Parisian court recently ordered withdrawn from circulation on account of a picture of Ilan Halimi. (See my FF report “The Photo France Does Not Want You to See”.) According to Vigoreux, Fofana said on Monday “that he had been happy to see Michaël Douieb’s blood flow.”
Marc Krief and Jérémy Ledoux were two other potential victims targeted by Fofana. On Vigoreux’s account,
Fofana indicated…that Jérémy Ledoux had been an “accident.” On the telephone he “sensed” that he “wasn’t Jewish.” But it was different in the case of Marc Krief: “I sensed that he was a Sephardic Jew,” he insisted.
Vigoreux quotes a lawyer on Fofana’s behavior in court:
Fofana continues to imagine that he retains power over the people present in the courtroom. He refuses to respond to questions. He whispers to certain lawyers, but only to them: perhaps he is willing to speak to them directly because their family names are not suspect.
In the present context, “not suspect” evidently means not obviously Jewish.
On Tuesday, two French police officials connected to the Halimi case gave testimony before the court. Vigoreux observes that despite all Fofana’s efforts at extortion, including an earlier plot to blackmail doctors, he “never managed to obtain any money at all.” “A terrified Michaël Douieb offers him his watch and 500 euros,” she continues, “but he does not take anything. What was he after then? Violence, above all? Was he really after money?”
The questioning of the two police officials raised another troubling issue: namely, concerning the conduct of the police themselves. Based on witness testimony, the police had created facial composite sketches of one of the “honey-pots.” One of the officials was asked why they did not publish the sketches:
The response: The risk of putting Ilan’s life at risk was too great at the time and the reaction of the perpetrators, too unpredictable. And moreover, according to the commissioner, too often the press refuses this sort of thing.
In fact, during the three and a half weeks of Ilan’s captivity, the public was not informed about his abduction. In her memoir “24 Days” [24 jours], Ilan’s mother Ruth recounts how the police asked her too to keep the matter secret.
On Wednesday, Ilan’s parents gave testimony before the court. Ilan’s father Didier criticized the police’s handling of the affair, saying that it had contributed to an “escalation.” Referring to the defendants, he is reported to have said: “When I see all these youngsters, I feel sorrow. I don’t feel hatred… But one has to take responsibility for one’s acts.” On Vigoreux’s account, he then addressed the members of the jury. “When you judge them,” he said, “I hope you will remember Ilan’s suffering.”
The statements by the parents prompted a response by Fofana in turn. Vigoreux quotes Fofana’s statement as follows:
As a human being, I understand the pain of a mother who loses her son, of a family who loses a child, of a community that loses one of its members. I can understand that the family of Ilan is demanding justice. But Gaza and Africa are also demanding justice.
According to Vigoreux, Fofana then added: “I understand that there is a contract out for me. The Jewish Organization [sic: l'Organisation Juive] wants me dead. But it will cost four million judeo-dollars for my corpse.”
Vigoreux also reports, however, that numerous of Fofana’s co-defendants expressed remorse and took their distance from the statements of their former “boss.” Jean-Christophe Soumbou, who is supposed to have been one of the leading members of the gang, is reported to have said the following:
There is not a single way of thinking in the dock. Fofana’s way of thinking is not mine. I take responsibility for what occurred, for my participation in the kidnapping. When Fofana asked me to kidnap the young man, I didn’t know that he was Jewish. I know that I’m going to spend many years in prison, but that’s nothing compared to the suffering of the family.
In a related development, on Thursday a Paris appeals court ruled that the June issue of the magazine Choc could be returned to the newsstands. On one condition: the photo of Ilan Halimi in captivity that features on its cover has to be obscured, both on the cover and on all the inside pages where it appears.