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October 26, 2021 1:21 pm

‘This Hatred Can Only Be Antisemitism’: Trial Opens in Paris of Two Men Charged With Brutal Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll

avatar by Ben Cohen

Mireille Knoll, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor who was murdered in her Paris apartment. Photo: Knoll family.

The murder trial of two men denounced as “monsters” by the family of their victim — an 85-year-old survivor of the Holocaust in France who was stabbed and robbed in a frenzied antisemitic assault — opened at the Court of Assizes in Paris on Tuesday.

The defendants, 32-year-old Yacine Mihoub and 25-year-old Alex Carrimbacus, stand accused of the brutal murder of Mireille Knoll with the aggravating circumstance of antisemitic hatred. The pair, who met while in prison, each possess lengthy criminal records for theft, possession of narcotics and violence.

Mihoub additionally has a previous conviction for sexual assault. His mother, Zoulikha Khellaf, is also on trial, charged with having cleaned the knife that was used to murder Knoll, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and could move only with the aid of a walking frame.

A grandmother who lived alone in an apartment in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, Knoll had known Mihoub, who lived with his family in the same building, since his childhood. On March 23, 2018, Mihoub, who would often visit Knoll without prior notice, arrived at her apartment with Carrimbacus. During the visit, which began with the pair drinking port wine from a bottle in Knoll’s apartment, Knoll was stabbed 11 times and her apartment set alight. Firefighters called out to Knoll’s building discovered her partially-burned body in her apartment.

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Mihoub and Carrimbacus have presented competing accounts of the murder to investigators. Carrimbacus has claimed that Mihoub angrily accused Knoll of giving evidence to the police that secured his last prison conviction, before slitting her throat with the Islamic cry, “Allahu Akhbar.” But according to Mihoub, it was Carrimbacus who stabbed Knoll with a knife as he quickly set about robbing her apartment. Both men accuse the other of having started the fire in Knoll’s apartment following her murder.

Investigators working on the case told French media outlets on Tuesday that the accounts given by both men were “not very credible,” given their demonstrated propensity “to lie” and “to manipulate.”

In Nov. 2020, the Paris Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by the accused to have the aggravating charge of antisemitism dropped. The court deemed as “plausible” a claim made by Carrimbacus that he overheard Mihoub lecturing Knoll about “the financial means of the Jews, their good situation,” with Knoll answering that “not all Jews have a good situation.” The court also noted Mihoub’s “ambivalence vis-à-vis Islamist terrorism which notably advocates antisemitism.” A police investigation following Knoll’s death established that Mihoub was a regular visitor to Islamist and antisemitic websites, and was already known to the authorities for having praised the Kouachi brothers, Islamists who carried out the deadly terror attack against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

Karim Laouafi, a defense lawyer for Carrimbacus, continued to insist on Tuesday that the charge of antisemitism should be answered by Mihoub alone. Referring to the case file on Mihoub, Laouafi argued that “these elements are not present in Alex Carrimbacus. If the crime is antisemitic, that cannot be blamed on him.”

Charles Consigny, a lawyer representing Mihoub, countered that the element of antisemitism had been fabricated by Carrimbacus. “It only exists because Carrimbacus invented a motive, and the prosecutors weren’t brave enough to drop it in the face of public pressure,” he said on Tuesday.

Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer for the Knoll family, declared on Tuesday that both of the accused should face “severe punishment for this horrible crime.”

“We will need a miracle for the truth to come out of their mouths,” Goldnadel told reporters as he entered the court, adding that Knoll’s murder was a clear case of “antisemitism motivated by financial gain.”

Daniel Knoll, one of Mireille Knoll’s sons, told reporters outside the court that he expected a “severe verdict” to emerge from the trial, which lasts until Nov. 10.

In a separate interview with the franceinfo news outlet, Daniel and his brother Alain Knoll spoke candidly about the impact of the murder of their mother — who as a nine-year-old child in 1942 survived the notorious “Vel d’Hiv” round-up, when French police officers organized the deportation of 13,000 Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I haven’t cried since my mother died, and I hope that when the murderers have been convicted, I will finally be able to cry,” Alain Knoll said.

“I want to know who stabbed my mother’s body eleven times,” he continued. “You must really hate in order to be able to do that, and this hatred can only be antisemitism.”

His brother Daniel added: “These people are not part of the community of humankind. They are monsters, they must be considered as monsters. Can we talk to monsters? I think it’s going to be next to impossible to talk to them.”

The French Jewish community is anxiously observing the Knoll trial, mindful of the shock decision earlier this year by France’s highest court to excuse from criminal trial the man accused of the antisemitic murder of Sarah Halimi — a 65-year-old Jewish woman whose life was taken, as with Mireille Knoll, in her own home.

The accused man, Kobili Traore, chanted Islamic prayers as he rained blows upon Halimi in her Paris apartment on April 4, 2017, before throwing her body from a third floor window. In April 2021, to the fury of the French Jewish community, Traore was deemed unfit to stand trial after a court-appointed psychiatrist concluded that his intake of cannabis on the night of the murder had rendered him temporarily insane.

Keren Knoll, Mireille Knoll’s granddaughter, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that “justice for Mireille Knoll has to mean justice for Sarah Halimi.”

“Will there finally be justice for the Jews in France?” she asked.

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