A French Jew’s insights of the events surrounding her killer’s “escape from justice”
By Dr. Gad Amar, retired French surgeon and writer in Jewish and Arab studies (translated from French)
On the night of April 3/4, 2017, in a popular district of Paris, Sarah Halimi, 65, a doctor by training and retired director of a Jewish crèche, was attacked by her neighbour, Kobili Traoré. Traoré broke into her home via the balcony and beat her up for 35 to 40 minutes to the shouts of Allah Akbar while reciting suras (chapters) from the Quran and calling her “Sheitan” (Satan), before throwing her from the 3rd floor window. She died on the sidewalk from her multiple injuries.
The day before, Traoré went to the Omar Mosque, a neighbouring Salafist mosque five times. He left the Mosque at 10 p.m., dined at a restaurant and slept over at a friend in the apartment building next to the one where he lived with his parents and where Sarah Halimi also lived.
He arose at 04:00am, went barefoot to the 3rd floor with his prayer rug, rang the bell at his family’s friends, the Diarra’s, who let him in, locked the door, put the keys in his pocket and shouted:
“It’s going to be death! It’s going to be death“.
In the morning, he had said to his parents “I missed everything in my life, tonight it will be all over.” Reacting to his disturbing state of agitation, the Diarra’s locked themselves in a room in their apartment and called the police, as did other neighbours who were awakened by his screaming. Traoré carried out his ablutions in the kitchen, recited a few prayers and went to the balcony where he steped over the balustrade to enter Sarah Halimi’s apartment. She was asleep in her bed. He will later claim to going crazy when he comes across the Jewish seven-branched candelabra and books on Judaism.
The police arrive quickly. They are new to the force and they are armed, but fail to intervene.
The 27-year-old Traoré an African immigrant from Mali, is a six foot tall drug addict who has been dealing in the neighbourhood for years. He had already been convicted 22 times for drug-related offences and resisting arrest. He had to his credit, been held in police custody more than fifty times and served two years in prison in periods of three and six months, according to William Attal, the brother of Sarah Halimi.
After perpetrating the murder, Traoré returned to his friends. He was calm and recited from the Koran. Arrested at 5:35 am, he was brought to the police station where he behaved aggressively and would take eight policemen to subdue him. He injured two. The doctor considered his psychiatric condition and committed him to a psychiatric hospital without hearing testimony from the police.
For days, it was only the Jewish community media that reported the murder of Sarah Halimi. The French media did not mention it at all. France was in the middle of a presidential campaign. François Hollande was the outgoing (socialist) President until May 14, 2017, Jean-Jacques Urvoas was his Minister of Justice until May 10, 2017. Possibly factoring in: Would media coverage of this new murder by a fanatic Islamist risk creating support for the far right Marine le Pen who was also a candidate in the elections?
On April 7, the Public Prosecutor, François Molins, declared that at that stage of the investigation, it did not appear to be an anti-Semitic act, but remained to be further investigated.
The investigating Judge, Anne Ihuellou, asked for two psychiatric – later three – evaluations, based on elements gleaned from the criminal, his family and the Diarra family. The investigation was not extended to those less close to the accused, despite requests from lawyers.
The first expert, Dr Zagury concluded his analysis. The prosecution asked the judge to reclassify the murder as an anti-Semitic act.
The second, after engaging with further colleagues in the profession, concluded that the accused bore no criminal responsibility.
Faced with these two contradictory testimonies, the victim’s lawyers requested for a third expert opinion.
Underlying the enquiry was the prevailing legal view that if the accused at the time of the commission of the act was in the grip of a drug-induced “delusional fit”, he was not in control of his actions and hence not criminally responsible.
The third expert asked two questions:
Firstly, in the execution of the ‘delusional’ act that culminated in the murder of Sarah Halimi, did the accused’s voluntary consumption of cannabis undermine his ability to formulate criminal intent?
Secondly, should not past conduct of the accused such as causing fear to the deceased every time she met him, be considered to show a pattern of anti-Semitic behaviour explaining the motivation of the crime?
On July 17, 2019, the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office requested that Traoré be charged for an anti-Semitic crime. However, the examining magistrate ruled that Traoré was not criminally responsible because his heavy cannabis use had put him in a state of temporary psychosis known in France as Bouffée délirante.
This was affirmed at the end of 2019 by the Paris Court of Appeal and in 2021 by the Court of Cassation, which is the final court of appeal in France. Lawyers for Halimi’s family subsequently announced their intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The shortcomings of the investigation have been exposed by lawyers. There was no reconstruction of the facts at the scene of the crime and no examination of the killer’s cell phone, which might have revealed evidence in conversation of his anti-Semitism or indicators of premeditation. The police officers present during the commission of the crime and who did not intervene, were not interviewed. And there was no investigation of the Salafi mosque frequented by the Traoré.
On his Facebook account, Traoré took the name “Boubaker Fofana”. Fofana is the surname of a gang leader who in 2006, kidnapped, tortured and murdered a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi.
What is to be deduced from this?
Does not taking the surname of the previous murderer and then killing a Jew with the exact same surname indicate a thoughtful pattern of intentional murderious behaviour rather than a “delusional” act brought about by drug taking?
The murderer, who had previously been in therapy for four years, had been out of treatment for eighteen months. However, the second panel of experts had claimed that he was developing signs of schizophrenia. This diagnosis was never confirmed. The case should have been reopened to dismiss this unsubstantiated claim, and to proceed only on the facts that included the accused’s Islamist fanaticism.
The judges should have exercised discretion in pronouncing their judgement. This they failed to do.
To shed light on all these gray – if not dark – areas, retired magistrate, Danielle Khayat, suggested more than a year ago that a parliamentary inquiry be conducted (Mabatim, 13 January 2020). The magistrate’s proposal was never considered.
Most of the justifiably aggrieved reactions came from the Jewish community of France and its representatives, as well as from several politicians including French President Emmanuel Macron, journalists, intellectuals and those who wrote letters to the media. Drug use, considered by law to be an aggravating factor, suddenly became a loophole.
In a rare critique of France’s justice system, President Macron said that taking drugs and “going crazy” should not take away criminal responsibility and has called for a change to laws to prevent such a case from happening again.
Exposing the different treatment when victims are Jewish, Dominique Durand, President of the Amitié Judeo-Chrétienne de France, writes in Journal LA CROIX (21 April 2021) that “in France, when victims are Jewish, the accused is failed to be held accountable in 15% of cases compared with 1% when they are not Jewish.” (Maître Marc Sztulman in La Règle du Jeu, April 22, 2021)
On Sunday April 25, 2012, protests brought together 26,000 people in the French cities of Paris, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Strasbourg and Toulouse, while in Tel Aviv, New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Rome and Brussels, protesters gathered too to demand justice for Sarah Halimi. The Mayor of Paris announced that she proposed to name a street after Sarah Halimi.
The Judicial Route
The investigation of the case suffers from numerous shortcomings. Premeditation was ruled out from the outset, which would have steered the case, including the expert reports, in a completely different direction.
The anti-Semitism expressed by Traoré, his family and his associates was completely ignored. Cannabis is not anti-Semitic and attributing the drug as the cause of the murder while ignoring the anti-Semitic nature of the crime was a deception, even a denial of the truth. After thousands of years of violent persecution, Jews recognise anti-Semitism and its lethal implications. In view of the shameful inadequacies of the investigation, it was up to the Court to request a further investigation in order to establish premeditation.
Indeed, the course of events during the night of the crime shows a determination of the killer to end the life of a neighbour whom he hated – simply because she was Jewish. His anti-Semitism was cultivated within his family and nourished by his association with a local Salafist mosque.
The notion of the accused’s “diminished responsibility” following the use of cannabis should also have been vigorously re-examined. After all, why should a driver of a motor vehicle who knocks down and kills a child after consuming cannabis be found responsible for his actions with aggravating circumstances, while a drugged out murderer who slaughters a JEWISH old lady is not?
In this regard, one of the lawyers of the Halimi family, Maître Gilles-William Goldnagel (le Figaro, 26 April 2021) referred to a case similar to that of Sarah Halimi, where the accused had stabbed his companion under the influence of drugs, and the Court found that the taking of drugs was “an aggravating circumstance”.
Not only did the judges in the Sarah Halimi murder case lack courage to pursue the truth, but it was also obvious that:
France preferred to bury the matter!
About the writer:
Dr. Gad Amar, Retired surgeon, Hebrew and Arab scholar, author of Jewish studies in Hebrew and French who has published the Sefer ha-Malkhouth in Hebrew by Rabbi David Halévy, the great Kabbalist who took refuge from Spain in Morocco.
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