The killing of 23-year-old Halimi, who was held to ransom for three weeks in a Parisian suburb, traumatized France, a country haunted by a history of anti-semitism and wartime collaboration with the Nazis.
Relatives of the victim last week expressed indignation at the defence’s attempts to cast doubt on claims that the 29-year-old Youssouf Fofana, leader of the gang, had chosen to kidnap Halimi in 2006 because he was Jewish. "We’re shocked that there is even any debate about it," said Anne-Laure, one of Halimi’s sisters.
She noted that Fofana, who insisted on gang members calling him "Osama", had often insulted Jews and sung verses from the Koran in between ransom demands over the telephone.
He allegedly told his accomplices that he wanted to kidnap a Jew because the Jewish community was rich, would stick together and would pay a big ransom.
"My son died because of that prejudice, just like millions of Jews before him," said Ilan's mother Ruth Halimi, in a recent published book about her son’s ordeal in which she compared the kidnapping with that of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist beheaded by Muslim extremists in 2002 in Pakistan.
Ruth Halimi has called for a public trial so that her son's death "will not have been in vain". But the trial of Fofana, a 29-year-old Frenchman of Ivorian origin, is scheduled to be held behind closed doors at a juvenile court, because two of the gang members were minors at the time of the murder. French law allows for a public trial to be held in certain cases where juveniles are involved. "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," Francis Szpyner, lawyer of Ruth Halimi, has said.
The family was advised by police to ask for a face-to-face meeting before paying any money, but negotiations kept foundering.
Just as shocking as the brutality of the murder was the fact that so many people knew about it and failed to tell the police. The girl who had been used to attract Ilan told several friends about the kidnapping, but none came forward. One of the gang members who did not want Halimi to be killed told his father what was happening. He advised the boy to keep quiet.
The grisly anti-Semitic crime shocked France and its 600,000-strong Jewish community. After two years of investigation, the magistrate came to te conclusion that Fofana ordered a young pretty woman to target Halimi because he was Jewish and because they presumed Jews were wealthy.
Fofana was arrested in March 2006 in the Ivory Coast, whre he had fled, and extradited to France.