chirac french synagogue .
(photo credit: AP)
A ceremony closing the shiva (the seven-day mourning period) for Ilan Halimi, the Parisian Jew who died after enduring brutal and extended torture at the hands of his Muslim kidnappers, was held Thursday evening at the main synagogue in Paris's 10th Quarter.
The ceremony was attended by France's Chief Rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, who called on all Frenchmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, to participate in ceremonies held in memory of Halimi throughout France. President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin were also at the ceremony at the Victoire Synagogue.
President Chirac and his wife Bernadette comforted Ilan's mother, Ruth Halimi, and her two daughters as they entered the temple.
Over two thousand people came to the synagogue, which could only seat 1,400; hundreds of Jews and non-Jews were compelled to remain outside in the freezing cold.
Halimi was kidnapped January 21 and was held for three weeks; he was tortured in the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux. On February 13, French authorities found Halimi naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks south of Paris. He died on his way to a hospital.
Halimi was abducted after a meeting with a young woman. His family later received a series of ransom demands - starting with one for around half a million euros.
French officials believe anti-Semitism may have played a role in the crime.
The Paris prosecutor revealed Halimi's case to the media on February 14, the day after he died. He said then that "no element of the current investigation could link this murder to an anti-Semitic declaration or action." The Jewish community did not believe him, and was already buzzing with rumors that other Jews had been abducted after dating blonde women.
The police issued Identikit pictures of the female suspect, and a few days later, a young blonde woman turned herself in to police. Her information led almost immediately to the identification of the men who allegedly kidnapped and tortured Halimi.
The lead suspect in the brutal torture killing of the young Jew was arrested in the Ivory Coast on Thursday and was to be returned to France immediately, the French prime minister's office said.
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo assured de Villepin that the suspect who fled France would be flown back "in the coming hours." A statement from Villepin's office said the quick transfer of the suspect, Youssouf Fofana, a French citizen, amounted to "judicial help." There had been questions about whether procedural issues could delay Fofana's extradition.
Up to a dozen people have been arrested in the case.
Fofana was arrested late Wednesday night in Abidjan's northern suburb of Abobo, police in Abidjan and Paris said. He had flown to Ivory Coast on a commercial flight days after the discovery of Halimi's body.
At first three, and then seven members of the gang were taken into custody for questioning. Fofana, 25, their leader, managed to escape investigators. He simply bought a ticket to Abidjan and flew to the Ivory Coast under his own name.
According to the police, Fofana - who likes to call himself "Brain of Barbarians" - is a Muslim of African origin, like some members of his group. Others are second generation immigrants - Arabs from North Africa and others from the French Antilles and Portugal, and some are from families that have long lived in France.
Sources in Abidjan said that Fofana admitted his participation to the kidnapping of Ilan, but denied any anti-Semitic intention.
Police said that during the investigation, some of the suspects said they had indeed chosen Halimi as their victim "because Jews are rich, and if they are not, their community will pay for their release." One of the youngest members of the gang, aged 16, reportedly admitted having tortured Ilan with a burning cigarette because the young man was Jewish. He also reportedly admitted having extinguished a cigarette on Halimi's forehead "because he was bothering me."
The investigating judge, having heard the testimony of the first suspects, issued an arrest order for kidnapping and murder, including the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism.