Key culprits in Halimi murder eligible for parole

Ilan Halimi, 23, was held captive for ransom and tortured for 24 days in an apartment outside Paris by a gang targeting Jews.

Ruth Halimi_311 (photo credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier)
Ruth Halimi_311
(photo credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier)
BRUSSELS – Ruth Halimi hoped the trial of her son’s killers would become an example and warning, lest Ilan Halimi’s death “be in vain.” Six years later, as some key culprits face early release, she says that hope is gone and that France no longer feels like home.
“What I had hoped for hasn’t really happened,” Ruth Halimi told The Jerusalem Post in Brussels. Unsentimental and careful not to generalize, she added: “Some of the sentences were too mild. The woman who lured Ilan to his death may be out in months.”
Ilan Halimi, 23, was held captive for ransom and tortured for 24 days in an apartment outside Paris by a gang targeting Jews. In 2010, an appeals court sent 16 of the 24 charged of assisting or committing the murder to prison for varying terms.
Emma Arbabzadeh, 17 at the time of Ilan Halimi’s murder, was promised 5,000 euros to go on a date with Ilan Halimi and lure him to an apartment where gang members awaited. Arbabzadeh was sentenced to nine years in the women’s prison at Versailles.
In February she will have served two thirds of her sentence, making her eligible for early release next month, pending the decision of French prison services sometime this year.
At the trial, Arbabzadeh said she had heard Ilan Halimi scream as he was carried away. Later that night she and her boyfriend stayed at a hotel room paid for by the kidnappers.
Also eligible for early release this year is Gilles Serrurier, the 45-year-old Parisian superintendent who provided the gang with a cellar in which to hold Ilan Halimi. He was promised 1,500 euros.
Gang leader Youssouf Fofana received the longest prison term: 18 years. At the trial, he explained that he had kidnapped Ilan Halimi, a cellphone salesman, for ransom because “all Jews were rich.”
After the trial, some public figures suggested Halimi’s murder was unrelated to anti-Semitism per se – including Sammy Ghozlan, a retired high-ranking police officer quoted as saying that had the gang “gotten their hands on a French cop, they probably would have done the same thing.”
Ruth Halimi disagrees.
“What was done to Ilan would not have been done to a non-Jew because normally someone would eventually say: ‘Enough.’ But a Jew doesn’t count.”
Since the trial, she said she heard one apology from the mother of gang member Samir Aït Abdelmalek, who had slashed Ilan Halimi’s face with a paper cutter.
“She begged for my forgiveness,” she said. “What I could tell her?”
Ruth Halimi recalled in a matter-of-fact voice during a conference in Brussels organized by European Jewish Press on the media’s attitudes to anti-Semitism: “Our lives are over. A part of me died with Ilan. That’s normal for any bereaved parent, but especially in this case. The fact that Ilan suffered matters a lot.”
Seeing those responsible for her son’s death during the trial was “torture,” according to Ruth Halimi. Now that their release approaches, she says she no longer feels at home in France.
“I stay because my family and work are here, but I want to go to Israel. It’s where Ilan always wanted to be and that’s why we moved him there for burial.”
In Paris, Halimi works for an organization tracking down Holocaust survivors and their descendants in order to give them money from frozen French bank accounts that belonged to them before the Holocaust.
“I am very lucky to be doing this sort of work,” she said.