French prosecution sources revealed that a 19-year-old adolescent of Jewish descent was attacked and sequestrated in Bagneux, the impoverished suburb where 23-year-old Ilan Halimi was tortured to death two years ago.
The six alleged attackers, aged 16 to 24, were all arrested and indicted for “violence against a person because of his supposed race or religion and his sexual orientation, organised kidnapping and acts of torture and barbarism [...]”, the prosecution announced last Tuesday.
The attack occurred on February 22, when Mathieu Roumi followed his neighbours to an apartment to settle what appears to be a dispute over the theft of Mathieu's cellular phone and a video player.
The thugs started at this point to brutalise Mathieu and to write anti-Semitic and homophobic insults on his face. They then moved him into a lock-up garage and tortured him for nine hours until one of the attackers, whose family owns the facility, had to go and refused to leave the others behind.
Traumatised Mathieu is set free after his aggressors threaten to kill him if he denounces them to police.
The same night, Mathieu is hospitalised and the next day he files a complaint at the police station, leading to the arrest of his torturers who confirmed his version of the story.
Jewish and anti-racist associations were shocked by the new hate crime, however, investigators rather remain cautious and avoid comparing the new case to the Ilan Halimi murder.
Halimi did not know his kidnappers, who organised his abduction simply because he was Jewish and they assumed Jews were rich. On the other hand, Mathieu knew his attackers and had apparently an issue to settle with them.
“We must wait until police investigators get to the bottom of the case, and determine what was the exact role of anti-Semitism” said Richard Prasquier, head of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF.
Others believe that the case is clearly anti-Semitic and homophobic.
“They are trying to fool us by imputing this on a financial issue” between the victim and his aggressors, said the head of the anti-racist movement LICRA Patrick Gaubert to the AFP.
The attackers even told Mathieu they admired Ilan Halimi's murderers the "Gang of Barbarians" led by Yousouf Fofana.
After Halimi’s murder in 2006, the prosecution, media and political officials refused at first to consider the attack as anti-Semitic, saying the murderers were only trying to get some money out of the abduction. Nicolas Sarkozy was among the first to state publicly that the murder was anti-Semitic.
Jewish officials told me they were deeply concerned by the global atmosphere in France.
“Although anti-Semitic attacks were down by 30% in 2007 compare to the previous year, the anti-Semitic stereotypes are spreading out,” said Richard Prasquier.
“The scary thing is that the youths in these neighbourhoods don’t even think that what has happened is all that terrible,” Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the Vigilance bureau against anti-Semitism said. “I talked to Mathieu’s neighbours after the attack and they were completely unmoved. They said that “things got a little out of hand”. Whenever attacking a Jew or someone with a Jewish name, thugs get much rougher and uncontrollable.”
Ilan Halimi z"l