Reproduction photo: French police department
Sarkozy. Barbaric criminals
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy denounced the torture and killing of a young Jewish man as an anti-Semitic crime on Tuesday and said police had found literature linking some suspects to Muslim causes.
He spoke after days of confusion over the case and confirmed the local Jewish community's fears about the death of Ilan Halimi on February 13. Police had said it was motivated by greed for a ransom and not any religious motive.
Sarkozy called the killers barbaric criminals and urged people not to draw racist conclusions – a clear warning against blaming France's Muslim community, which was widely suspected in a wave of anti-Jewish attacks several years ago.
"The truth is that these crooks acted primarily for sordid and vile motives – to get money – but they were convinced that 'the Jews have money' and ... his family and community would provide it," Sarkozy told parliament.
"That's called anti-Semitism by conflation," He said, adding four of six other people the gang tried to kidnap were Jewish.
Sarkozy said police had linked some suspects to documents supporting Palestinian and arch-conservative Islamic causes. Judicial sources said these involved literature for Muslim charities found at homes of relatives of some suspects.
Halimi, 23, was found naked, tortured and burned south of Paris after being held for three weeks by a gang demanding a large ransom. He died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
A magistrate said on Monday seven suspects were being investigated for "Murder linked to the victim's religion".
The whole truth
France has Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish minorities, but the former numbers about five million and the latter only 600,000. Many Arabs and Jews are immigrants and live uneasily side-by-side in poor neighborhoods.
Speaking a day after Jewish community leader Roger Cukierman urged the government to "provide the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Sarkozy said he had to release the details he had but did not want them to arouse hate or fear.
"What we don't need now, in addition to this barbarity, is misunderstanding, intolerance and racism," He said.
Disaffected Muslim youths were widely blamed for a wave of anti-Semitic violence earlier this decade.
The slow official reaction back then earned France stiff criticism from other countries, especially the United States and Israel, and the debate over the Halimi case seemed to echo the confusion that prevailed then.
Police initially said the gang was ethnically mixed and did not only prey on Jews. But this did not end suspicions in the Jewish community that they were Muslims.
Two French police officers flew to Ivory Coast on Tuesday to track down Youssef Fofana, suspected head of the gang who apparently fled back to his native country after the murder.
Police said Fofana called himself the "brain of the barbarians" and that his gang used young women to lure potential targets to locations where they could be kidnapped. The woman who lured Halimi has given herself up to police.