TCS Daily

Gang of Barbarians

By Nidra Poller - March 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man, was abducted by the "Gang of Barbarians," held in Bagneux, a banlieue south of Paris, and brutally tortured for three and a half weeks. He died minutes after he was discovered naked, handcuffed, bleeding profusely.

Readers will remember certain analysts of the November uprising in France who rejected any religious or ethnic component. The "jeunes des banlieues," they said, are resolutely French; they want to be accepted, in all their diversity, as French.

The credo has been repeated for decades. Illegal immigrants no sooner set foot in the country than they become indelibly French; it would be too cruel to send them away, no matter how they got here. Criminals of foreign origin serve time in prison and then go back to being French; sending them back to the land of their parents or grandparents is considered heartless, and rejected outright.

Well, here's a new twist: Youssouf Fofana the Brain of the Barbarians, French by birth and nationality, wanted to be Ivorian. Yes, the leader of the gang that abducted Ilan Halimi and tortured him to death left France with the police hot on his trail. Well, not so hot because he flew to Abidjan via Dakar, according to the AP, under his own name, entered the country with his French passport, checked into a hotel and spent the night with his girlfriend. They spent the next day in the funky neighborhood of if the simple thought of shedding his French nationality washed him of all guilt. But Fofana was stopped at a roadblock and brought to the police station. The lightly guarded two-story building where he and his lady continued to lead the good life looked far too fragile to hold such an evil man. Fofana was known to have contacts in the North, under control of Muslim rebels since 2003. What could prevent his cronies from storming the place?

Nothing kept a local journalist working for i-télévision (a subsidiary of the French cable channel Canal Plus) from bopping in and doing an interview with Pretty Boy. News is news? Not really. A sharply slanted minute-and-a-half morsel of the eight-minute interview was broadcast. Fofana at lunch with his ever-present sweetheart, enjoying the local manioc delicacy attieké. Shocking? Well, what would you expect in the way of a homecoming after a difficult three-and-a-half week punitive mission against the enemy? The all-news station let Fofana claim that he didn't kill Ilan,* though he did participate in the kidnapping which, he said in very fancy French, was undertaken for the purpose of obtaining financial benefits. And of course he is not anti-Semitic. But he declared that he is Ivorian and intends to remain in his native land. As for the label "Gang of Barbarians," it is the expression of their "deplorable victimization."

A director of the all-news station later stated that the interview was an example of normal newsgathering. "We are journalists," she said, as if that explained everything...or anything...and especially why they did not broadcast the juicy bit where Fofana boasts of his negritude, says he is a soldier of a new army, shrugs off the death of Ilan with "Blacks die in Africa every day."

To the surprise of the French media that were counting on a long drawn-out procedure, Ivoirian authorities acted swiftly. Fofana was presented to a judge acting on an international arrest warrant and placed in a real prison cell. Despite the efforts of five lawyers in long black robes who conferred with him in the maximum-security wing — known for its excellent escape record — the extradition procedure was completed in record time. President Laurent Gbagbo personally intervened. Fofana was back in France on March fourth.

It would take volumes to communicate the bare details emerging about this grisly affair. The Gang of the Barbarians has been operating for several years, at least since 2002. Aside from everyday activities such as armed robbery and drug dealing they specialized in botched extortion operations. Prominent men, with a higher than average number of Jews, were victims of dramatic threats, often involving pictures of armed masked men in front of their homes, information about their families, harsh details of the harm that would be inflicted on them. Two elements deserve particular attention: victims of one series of extortion attempts all lived near Bagneux where Ilan was subsequently held hostage, and none of them led to a payoff. A second wave of terrorizing extortion attempts was aimed at General Practitioners. All or most of them Jewish. And again, no payoff.

They claimed to be looking for ransom but what they did was terrorize, brutalize, dehumanize, and finally, with the torture death of Ilan Halimi, exterminate. All under the banner of the new army, led by the likes of Fofana.

How is the French government reacting? What is the real attitude of society at large? It seemed for a brief moment that this atrocity had ripped away the veil of hypocrisy behind which the new anti-Semitism developed and flourished. Fofana's discourse is a perfect illustration of the way it functions. He tells a story—what I call a lethal narrative—that leads to the inexorable conclusion that he has a perfect right to torture and kill a Jew. Lethal narratives bandied about in mainstream media for the past five years have issued this license to hunt and kill.

It will take more than solemn official participation in synagogue services and marches on the boulevards to undo the damage that has been done. The February 26 march jointly organized by the LICRA, the CRIF (the Jewish umbrella organization) and SOS Racisme, with a host of participating associations and the highly visible presence of dozens of elected officials, was neither here nor there. It mobilized 30,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 people — reliable figures can never be obtained in France, where demonstrating is the favorite hobby. Someone surely knows how to count. But facts interfere with policy, so we have to be satisfied with what we can see with our own eyes. Let's say between 80 and 100,000. Mainly Jews. Parisians did not feel any need to stand up, walk, and be counted. Some people, sincerely concerned, stayed away because they saw the march as an empty gesture.

And still others stood aggressively on the sidelines. Like this elderly Maghrebi, interviewed by Alexandre Feigenbaum, who asked the gentleman why he would demonstrate against the Danish cartoons and not for a young man tortured to death. Reminding him that when Brahim Bouaram was thrown into the Seine [apparently by militants of the Front National] a Jewish organization was the first to organize a commemoration.

"In Morocco, the Jews were preserved, and you know what? They harmed us. Yes, yes, they harmed us a lot. They can do whatever they want, they control the media. They have money. The Arabs have nothing."

"And petrodollars? Oil at $70 a barrel?"

"It's still cheap for the Americans. And the Arabs are left with nothing. Here they're demonstrating for a Jew. In Israel, if a Jew is killed, Sharon kills a million Palestinians.... It's a genocide."

"There were 500,000 Palestinians in 1948. Today there are 2 million. You call that a genocide? When my family was exterminated, the numbers dropped dramatically."

"That's ancient history," he grumbles. And adds, to clinch the argument, "Ilan ran after girls."

There you have it, your garden variety non-anti-Semite.

Which might lead one to understand why Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin (Procureur de Paris) maintains that the Gang of the Barbarians did not choose Ilan because he is Jewish but because they wanted money and, in their simple minds, Jews equal money.

Giving the barbarians the benefit of the doubt is portrayed as the ultimate in judicial elegance but the investigating magistrate Corinne Goetzmann is including "hate crime," in the preliminary charges brought against 12 of the suspects now in detention. Where will the multiple pressures exerted on this affair be most effective? If it is decided at the Summit of the State that those charges will exacerbate ruffled feelings in the banlieue, the judge could be replaced.

Is it all that difficult to find out if the charges are justified? Does it really depend on the testimony of the accused? Does anyone expect them to admit that they tortured a young man to death, slowly, for three and a half weeks, because he was Jewish?

Daniel Benayoun, an active member of a Jewish congregation in Bagneux, stated in an interview with Michel Zerbib (Radio J), that Jews in his community are constantly subject to violence. He personally knows of more than 50 incidents, including one where a young man was beaten almost to death. The police are reluctant to register complaints. So these anti-Semitic attacks don't make it into the statistics proudly displayed to show that France is dealing firmly with anti-Semitism.

Members of the Jewish community who went to the same junior high school as Fofana and his gang witnessed — and experienced — their violent Jew hatred.

Is this the dead end of diversity? Punk jihad is not limited to Muslim youths, it attracts delinquents of other origins — Jerome Reibero handled the day-to-day logistics of Ilan's captivity — including "real" French accomplices.

The victims of this new kind of war are not all Jews, as several recent grisly crimes attest...and as the Jewish community warned five years ago, when the al-Dura blood libel hit the screens.

*As revealed by Media-Ratings: an attentive ear picked up an error in the interview, which was sub-titled — apparently because of Fofana's accent. Asked what he had to say to Ilan's family, Fofana replied, "Your child fought back [Que leur enfant s'est battu]" but it was subtitled as "I didn't kill your child [Que leur enfant je ne l'ai pas tué]."


1 Comment

Gang of Barbarians
Very well written article. Disturbing implications, especially if police really are turning a blind eye to illegal activities that eventually lead to violence and death.

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