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‘Because He Was a Jew’: Kidnapping and Murder of Ilan Halimi in Paris Commemorated Amid French Election Battle

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Protestors gather in Paris in February 2006 following the antisemitic murder of Ilan Halimi. Photo: Reuters/Regis Duvignau.

Against the background of this year’s presidential election in France, Jewish organizations and French politicians have marked the sixteenth anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew, by an antisemitic gang.

“Sixteen years ago today, a 23-year-old French Jew named Ilan Halimi was kidnapped, tortured for three weeks and murdered for one reason only: he was Jewish,” the European Jewish Congress (EJC) declared on Twitter Thursday. “He is not forgotten. May his memory be for a blessing.”

A potent symbol of the rise of antisemitism in France over the last 20 years, Halimi was kidnapped on Jan. 20, 2006, by a mainly Muslim gang calling themselves “The Barbarians.” Lured into the gang’s hands by a young woman who flirted with him in the cellphone store where he worked as a salesman, Halimi subsequently spent three weeks in captivity, during which he was constantly beaten and burned with cigarettes while tied to a radiator.

Throughout the ordeal, the gang attempted to extort 450,000 euros in ransom money from Halimi’s relatives, believing them to be wealthy because — as one of the gang members later explained to French police — “Jews have money.”

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On February 13, 2006, Halimi was dumped, barely alive and with burns on 80 percent of his body, near a railway track on the outskirts of Paris. Discovered by a passerby who called for an ambulance, Halimi died on his way to the hospital.

After a harrowing three-month trial in 2009, 27 members of the gang were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their roles in Halimi’s murder. The Barbarians leader, Youssef Fofana, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Tributes were also paid by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which noted solemnly that Halimi “was tortured for three weeks simply for being a Jew” and that he had “succumbed to his horrific injuries on the way to the hospital,” and Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who observed that “Halimi could have been any one of us.”

“In his honor, and the honor of so many others, we continue the fight against antisemitism,” Greenblatt stated.

Three of the candidates in April’s presidential elections acknowledged the anniversary of Halimi’s abduction on Twitter.

“For 24 days, he was kidnapped and tortured before being killed because he was Jewish,” wrote the Socialist Party candidate and current Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. “Let us never forget him and continue to fight tirelessly against antisemitism.”

The two far-right candidates in the election used the anniversary to press their wider points about ethnic and social tensions in France. “Faced with the rise of Islamism and antisemitism in our country, my hand will not tremble,” stated Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally (RN).

Maverick independent candidate Éric Zemmour meanwhile pledged that to “honor [Halimi’s] memory, we will hunt down all the gangs and all the barbarians.”

In a separate development on Thursday, Zemmour’s candidacy suffered a blow when the Paris Court of Appeal rejected his request to postpone his trial for contesting a crime against humanity. Zemmour has repeatedly stated against historical evidence that Marshal Philippe Pétain — the head of the collaborationist Vichy regime during the Nazi occupation of France — acted to “save” French-born Jews by prioritizing those born abroad for deportation.

Zemmour’s lawyer, Olivier Pardo, argued unsuccessfully that his client’s media profile during the election campaign would prejudice the trial. But the Union of Jewish Students (UEJF), which brought the action against the Zemmour, denounced what it described as a “maneuver” by Zemmour’s legal team.

“I am a candidate and so what? Candidate or not, Éric Zemmour remains a litigant like any other,” Alain Jakubowicz, a lawyer representing the UEJF, told broadcaster Europe 1.

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