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April 23, 2021 11:07 am

Halimi Family Lawyers Announce Bid to Extradite Antisemitic Killer of French Jewish Woman for Trial in Israel

avatar by Ben Cohen

A postcard campaign calling for justice for Sarah Halimi addressed to French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: courtesy of Israelite Consistoire of Haut-Rhin

Lawyers representing relatives of Sarah Halimi — the French Jewish woman brutally murdered in her Paris apartment by an antisemitic intruder in April 2017 — say they are launching an effort to have her accused murderer extradited to Israel to face trial, following the decision of France’s highest appeal court on April 14 to excuse him from legal proceedings on the alleged grounds that his consumption of marijuana had rendered him temporarily insane.

The decision meant that Halimi’s killer — Kobili Traore, a 31-year-old petty criminal who frequented an Islamist mosque near the Paris housing project where he and Halimi both lived — would never have to face trial in France, causing a furious reaction among French Jews.

Speaking to the newspaper Le Monde on Thursday, Halimi family lawyer Francis Szpiner argued that the legal foundations were in place to try Traore in an Israeli court.

“Israeli criminal law provides that when the victim is Jewish and the crime is of an antisemitic nature, Israeli justice has jurisdiction, regardless of the country where the events took place,” said Szpiner, who represents Esther Lekover, the sister of Sarah Halimi and an Israeli citizen.

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Israel’s Penal Law of 1977 contains a provision to extend Israeli criminal justice, under certain circumstances, to offenses committed abroad. This includes antisemitic attacks against “the life, body, health, freedom or property of a Jew, as a Jew, or the property of a Jewish institution, because it is such.”

The obstacles in the way of securing Traore’s eventual extradition to Israel would appear to be insurmountable. France has a strict policy against extraditing its own citizens for trial abroad, as US prosecutors know all too well from the 1977 sexual abuse case involving film director Roman Polanski. More recently, in July 2020, a court in New York refused bail to Ghislaine Maxwell, a party to the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking scandal, out of concern that her French citizenship would enable her to abscond to France, where she would remain as a fugitive from US justice.

In his interview with Le Monde, Szpiner pointed out that France had previously extended its jurisdiction to foreign cases in which French citizens had been the victims. In 1990, for example, Alfredo Astiz — a notorious torturer who served Argentina’s military regime from 1976-83 — was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia for his role in the disappearance of two French nuns, Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet.

Sending Traore to Israel for trial would be in keeping with “the same philosophy as the one applied by France,” Szpiner said. He added that while a distinction between religion and nationality exists, the application of Israeli law in cases like Sarah Halimi’s “can be explained by history.”

However, the initial hurdles to building a case for Traore’s trial exist not in France, but Israel. Szpiner first needs to file a complaint, which will require translating four years of legal documents relating to the Halimi case. The Israeli police would then need to carry out its own investigation before a prosecutor could determine whether to proceed.

Halimi was murdered on April 4, 2017, when Traore broke into her home during the early morning hours by climbing onto her balcony from a neighboring apartment.

Terrified neighbors who alerted police after hearing Halimi’s cries for help reported that Traore had shouted the words, “Allahu Akhbar,” and, “Shaitan” (Arabic for “Satan”) as he rained kicks and punches on his victim, before picking up her bruised body and throwing her out of the window of her third-floor apartment.

Police investigations later revealed that Halimi had told relatives that she was scared of Traore, who insulted her visiting daughter as a “dirty Jewess” a few weeks before the murder.

Traore admitted his guilt during his one recorded court appearance in Nov. 2019. “What I committed was horrible. I regret what I did. I apologize to the civil parties,” he said. However, successive psychiatric experts consulted by the court continued to insist that Traore’s mental state at the time of the killing — caused by what it termed an “acute delirious puff” on a marijuana joint — meant that he could not be deemed criminally responsible for Halimi’s ordeal.

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