PARIS – On the surface it appeared to be a fairly routine incident in one of Paris's suburbs containing large concentrations of immigrants who live under constant ethnic tensions. Said Bourarach, a guard at a hardware store in the town of Bobigny, northeast of the French capital, refused to allow a group of youths into the store claiming "I have no time for people like you."
The teens, who happened to be Jewish, apparently interpreted the message as anti-Semitic and started a brawl after the store closed. Eye witnesses said the five teens had tried to "settle the score" with the guard.
Bourarach's body was found in a nearby ditch the following day. The youths, who were all known to the police for a line of offences, were subsequently arrested, but denied any connection to the victim's death. They claimed that Bourarach, a 35-year-old father of one, fell into the ditch while trying to escape.
The attorney representing the victim's family claimed that the argument does not correspond with the fact that a post-mortem autopsy revealed bruises on the victim's back and shoulders.
The youths are infamous in Bobigny, including one Dan L. who has a particularly bad reputation for being violent.
It remains unclear whether the suspects will be indicted for the incident, and police have decided to keep the investigation's details secret for the time being.
Following the suspects' arrest, it was discovered that Dan L. and his brother, who was also detained, have connections to the Jewish Defense League (JDL), an extreme right-wing group founded by Rabbi Kahana. The two were previously members of the organization.
Various French blogs affiliated with radical Muslim groups claimed that the JDL was behind the alleged murder, carried out as a revenge for the murder of three Jews in a synagogue in 2008.
A spokesman on behalf of the JDL was quick to deny any connection to the detainees and the murder. "I do not know the attackers of Said Bourarach," he told the Libération paper. "Even if they were once members of the League, it was not for a long time and they did not left a big impression."
A police source said that the scuffle which led to Bourarach's death broke out on an ethnic background but noted, "as far as we know there were no leading activists of the Jewish community." Four of the suspects are still in police custody.
'Horrifying racist crime'
Muhammed Aneesh, chairman of local Muslim groups is confident that the murder was a hate crime. "Said fell victim to a horrifying racist crime. Dan L. confessed to his actions and said the motive for the assault was Said's refusal to allow him in the store because he was Jewish, which was denied by all of the witnesses.
"Said had a family and an impeccable track record. One cannot but infer that Dan L. has prejudices about all Arabs being anti-Jewish."
Several days after the murder hundreds of people formed a protest watch in the center of town and demanded justice be served to Said's murderers, without delay. It appears they would have to wait a while, due to the complexity of the case.