Man nabbed in murder of French Jew

Leader in brutal torture and murder case arrested after fleeing to Ivory Coast.

Youssouf Fofana 88.298 (photo credit: )
Youssouf Fofana 88.298
(photo credit: )
Ivory Coast police have arrested a suspect in the brutal torture and slaying of a young Jewish man in France, the French premier said Thursday. The man, identified as Youssouf F., could be returned to France within hours, Dominique de Villepin said on Canal Plus TV, adding that French and Ivory Coast police cooperated in the arrest. However, Abidjan state prosecutor Raymond Tchimou expressed reserve about how quickly Fofana could be returned to France. The extradition process is complicated and Fofana could be returned "this week," Tchimou was quoted as saying in an interview published Thursday in French daily Le Monde. In an incident that has dominated headlines across the country, Ilan Halimi, 23, was lured by a woman on January 21 away from the store where he sold mobile phones, abducted and then held in a suburban housing project for three weeks by a criminal gang, where he was repeatedly tortured, according to French officials. He was then dumped, barely alive and reportedly with burn marks all over his body, at a suburban train station on Monday, February 13. Halimi died while being driven to a hospital. Until this week, detectives investigating the case said they were not linking it to anti-Semitism. But in a turnaround, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told a Jewish communal gathering Monday night that officials had decided to treat the case as an act of anti-Semitism. De Villepin said the minister of justice had ordered that Halimi's torture and murder be considered "premeditated murder motivated by religious affiliation." Villepin spoke at the annual dinner of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, or CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups. In addition to pledging that the government would do its utmost to find Halimi's killers, de Villepin vowed that the French government would fight anti-Semitism throughout French society. President Jacques Chirac will attend a memorial Thursday evening for the young man, Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old mobile phone salesman. He was kidnapped Jan. 21 and tortured in the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux. French officials believe anti-Semitism may have played a role in the killing. Halimi was kidnapped after a meeting with a young woman. His family later received a series of ransom demands -starting with one for around US$537,000. Villepin will join Chirac at the ceremony at Paris' main synagogue. On Monday, 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. About a dozen people have been arrested in the case.