…In initial statements to the press, Public Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin and various police officials stuck to their hypothesis that money was the motive for the crime, not anti-Semitism. They noted that Ilan Halimi had been tortured as if the gang were following “a known scenario.” Photos of Ilan, naked, with a sack on his head and a gun pointed at his temple were emailed to family members suggesting, according to the police, “scenes of torture at Abu Ghraib.” As it turns out, the beheading of Daniel Pearl or Iraqi snuff films are the better comparison. An anonymous police detective quoted in Monday’s edition of Libération said: “It’s simply that, for those criminals, Jew equals money.”
Later that same day, investigating magistrate Corinne Goetzmann detained seven of the suspects on charges of kidnapping, sequestration, torture, acts of barbarism and premeditated murder in an organized gang. They will also be charged with targeting the victim on the basis of his religion, French for hate crime, which carries a stiffer penalty. Justice Minister Pascal Clément explained that the charge of anti-Semitism was based on the fact that one of the suspects had declared to the judge that they picked a Jew because Jews are supposed to be rich. But, according to reports in the French press, some of the suspects in police custody said that they tortured Ilan with particular cruelty simply because he was Jewish.
No longer able to deny or play down the racial motive, the investigation is entering a new phase. One of the most troubling aspects of this affair is the probable involvement of relatives and neighbors, beyond the immediate circle of the gang, who were told about the Jewish hostage and dropped in to participate in the torture.
Ilan’s uncle Rafi Halimi told reporters that the gang phoned the family on several occasions and made them listen to the recitation of verses from the Quran, while Ilan’s tortured screams could be heard in the background. The family has publicly criticized the police for deliberately ignoring the explicit anti-Semitic motives, which were repeatedly expressed and should have dictated an entirely different approach to the case from the start. Police searches have now revealed the presence of Islamist literature in the home of at least one of the gang members.
The torture lasted for three weeks.
Contrary to protestations that this was the first time in sixty years that a Jewish person had been killed for being Jewish,
The murder of Ilan Halimi invites comparison with the November 2003 killing of a Jewish disc jockey, Sébastien Selam. His Muslim neighbor, Adel, slit his throat, nearly decapitating him, and gouged out his eyes with a carving fork in his building’s underground parking garage. Adel came upstairs with bloodied hands and told his mother, “I killed my Jew, I will go to paradise.” In the two years before his murder, the Selam family was repeatedly harassed for being Jewish. The Selam case has not been opened by the magistrate. The murderer, who admits his guilt, was placed in a psychiatric hospital, and may be released soon.