On April 4, 2017 in Paris, Kobili Traore, an immigrant from Mali who became a French citizen, tortured and murdered Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old retired Jewish physician and educator. France's courts cleared the murderer of all charges on the grounds that he acted under the influence of marijuana. Every year in France, dozens of violent physical attacks against Jews take place. Pictured: Thousands of people gather to demand justice for Sarah Halimi, at Trocadero Plaza in Paris on April 25, 2021. (Photo by Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images)
Paris, April 4, 2017. 4:00 am. A man breaks into the home of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old retired Jewish physician and educator. He beats and tortures her for over an hour while reciting verses from the Quran and repeatedly shouting, "Allahu Akbar!" [Allah is the greatest!"]. He uses anti-Semitic slurs and calls her "Sheitan" (Satan). He throws her from the balcony of her apartment and she falls to the ground, three floors below, dead. The police arrest him.
What happened was an unspeakable antisemitic murder. It was also the start of a process that brought to light once again the many serious and shameful dysfunctions that mark today's France.
The murderer, Kobili Traore, an immigrant from Mali who became a French citizen, is a recidivist criminal who had already been arrested and sentenced by the courts 20 times for violent assaults. He was nonetheless free. His only known professional activity is, in two words: drug dealer. He told the officers who arrested him that he is a drug addict and had smoked marijuana in the hours before the murder.
As a drug dealer, convicted time and again for violent assault, he was free to reoffend. This time, however, he committed murder.
The testimonies of Sarah Halimi's neighbors revealed that the police arrived at the scene of the murder while she was still alive. The police officers apparently went upstairs to her apartment door, heard her screaming and another voice shouting in Arabic. What did they do? They went back downstairs and waited for reinforcements -- until the victim was dead.
They left the murderer alone with his victim. Why is this not a clear case of dereliction of duty? Yet, no investigation has been carried out to determine what, if anything, was the responsibility of the police.
The neighbors' testimonies also revealed that Traore had met Dr. Halimi and her daughter several times in the stairwell of the building where he had threatened them and had called them "dirty Jews". Her neighbors added that Traore had often visited an Islamist mosque. Three days after the murder, on April 7, Paris prosecutor François Mollins nonetheless publicly declared that all the elements at his disposal showed that the murder of Sarah Halimi had "no antisemitic motive".
How could he have said that when so many elements available at the time showed exactly the opposite? The lawyers for Dr. Halimi's sister and children fought for more than six months before, on January 23, 2018, the antisemitic nature of the murder was recognized by French department of justice.
Irregularities took place that were even more scandalous:
- The murderer, under the influence of an illicit substance, was immediately sent to a mental institution, not to prison. Who decided that? Usually, a person arrested after a crime and found to be "under the influence" is arrested, placed in a cell to sober up, then charged by a judge. Why was this case not treated the same way? Who made that decision and why?
- The judge who conducted the investigation, Anne Ihouelou, is a member of the "Syndicat de la magistrature" (Magistrate's Union), a militant left-wing organization with a record of supporting the actions of Islamic organizations, including those of the Collectif contre l'Islamophobie en France (CCIF, Collective against Islamophobia in France), created by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (the leaders of the CCIF decided to dissolve the association in November 2020). Why, in the name of justice, would anyone entrust an investigation into the murder of a Jewish woman by an antisemitic Muslim to a member of an organization like that?
In addition, during the investigation, Judge Ihouelou repeatedly violated the most basic rules of her profession by behaving in a strikingly biased way. First, she refused to allow any reconstruction of the crime. She ruled that reconstructing the crime would be "traumatic" for the criminal. She also refused to meet the lawyers of the victim's sister and children to hear what they had to say. She still has never met them. She has also never responded to letters they sent her presenting their arguments. She did, however, ask a psychiatrist, Daniel Zagury, for his expert opinion. His report stated that even though at the time of the incident the killer was under the influence of marijuana and in a state of "acute delirium", he could nonetheless be held responsible for his actions.
Six months later, in April 2018, Judge Ihouelou requested a second expert opinion. This time, she chose a group headed by another psychiatrist, Paul Bensussan. His report concluded that the "acute delirium" made the murderer not responsible for his actions, implied that Traore was not guilty and therefore could not be tried. Ihouelou requested a third report, from a third psychiatrist, Roland Coutanceau, who did not decide one way or the other. Eventually she selected the conclusions of the Bensussan report, and, on July 12, 2019, in agreement with two other judges, declared the murderer not guilty and cleared of all charges.
The file was immediately sent to the Court of Appeal. On December 19, 2019, its decision stated that the Traore had indeed committed an antisemitic murder, but it validated the decision of Judge Ihouelou, and said that he was not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder and could therefore be granted his freedom.
How could a Court of Appeal validate an investigation in which a reconstruction of the crime never took place; in which the lawyers for the family were never heard, and at the end of which, the decision was rendered solely on the basis of a psychiatric report written months after the facts; based mainly on the statements of a murderer, and contradicted by another psychiatric report?
The Court of Cassation (the highest Court in the French judicial system) was called on to make a final decision. On April 14, 2021, it validated the decision of the Court of Appeal. The murderer will walk free.
The French Jewish community, for four years, was virtually alone in demanding justice for Sarah Halimi.
For six weeks after Halimi's murder, the mainstream French media did not even mention it. The French presidential elections were close. "Two weeks before the elections," university professor Sarah Cattan said on the French public radio channel, France Culture, "the government did everything to prevent publicity on an antisemitic murder". So, apparently an antisemitic murder, committed in Paris, was hidden from the French public for political reasons.
After May 7 and the second round of the French presidential elections, France's mainstream media continued to remain silent about the murder. The first article about it, published on May 23, 2017, in the daily Le Monde, asked, "Was Sarah Halimi killed 'because she was Jewish?'" Its answer seemed to be no. On June 1, 2017, a statement signed by 17 intellectuals was published in the daily Le Figaro: "Let the truth be told about the murder of Sarah Halimi". The text spoke of "rare barbarism" and said that the murderer had shouted "Allahu Akbar", but the words "Islamic antisemitism" are nowhere to be found. "Denouncing far-right antisemitism is very easy in France," said geopolitical analyst Alexandre del Valle, "denouncing Islamic antisemitism is almost impossible. Attempting to do so immediately arouses heated reactions from Muslim organizations, and the mainstream media and political leaders prefer to avoid any trouble".
The decision of the Court of Appeal has caused immense outrage in the French Jewish community. "A Sarah Halimi jurisprudence has just been created", said Francis Szpiner, the lawyer for Halimi's children: "any person declared to be suffering from a delusional puff because he took an illicit substance dangerous for his health will be exempt from criminal liability". Gilles-William Goldnadel, lawyer for Sarah Halimi's sister, called the finding an "ideological decision".
The ruling of the Court of Cassation again caused outrage in the French Jewish community. Joel Mergui, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France, wrote:
"[T]his decision risks significantly eroding the confidence that the Jews of France have in the justice of their country and in its capacity to protect them.... The judiciary considered that the murderer did not have enough discernment to be judged, but, according to the same judiciary, he had enough discernment to choose his victim, remember their religion, and commit a murder recognized as anti-Semitic".
Meyer Habib, the Member of Parliament representing the Eighth Constituency for French residents overseas (elected by French citizens residing in Cyprus, Greece, the Vatican, Israel, Italy, Malta, San Marino and Turkey), commented that even if the laws were changed, the murderer of Sarah Halimi would be free anyway.
Demonstrations were organized -- in Paris and other major cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, London, New York, and Los Angeles -- to demand justice for Sarah Halimi. Sadly, those who demonstrated were almost all Jews. The protests are unlikely to change the situation. Legally, the decision of the Court of Cassation cannot be reversed.
An Algerian author, Boualem Sansal, wrote a courageous article in which he explicitly denounced:
"all those who in one way or another made it possible that one day, in France, in Paris, an Islamist enters the home of a woman, an neighbor in this case, of the Jewish faith, tortures her and throws her out of a window while shouting Allahu Akbar, and is now free, free to continue his miserable existence, honored and congratulated as one would suspect by his own for having fulfilled a founding commandment pronounced by Allah against Jews and Christians, [and] repeatedly recalled in his sacred book, the Koran ... The murderer is officially authorized to continue his work of hatred and death".
Nili Naouri-Kupfer, president of the organization "Israël is Forever" wrote:
"The French government and justice department are afraid of the Muslim voters, afraid of the Muslim street. They think it doesn't matter if a few Jews are killed if peace can exist in their cities. They choose to sacrifice Jews rather than face the Muslim threat, therefore there never again will be peace in France! "
"I no longer trust the justice of my country", wrote a lawyer, Gilles-William Goldnadel. He filed a complaint against the murderer, invoking Article 13 of an Israeli procedural law stating that in the event of an assault on the life of a Jew committed abroad, Israeli law applies. Francis Szpiner, a lawyer currently serving as the mayor of the 16th arrondissement in Paris, joined in the complaint.
A radio commentator, Raphaël Nisand, on the French station, Radio Judaïca, wrote in the weekly Tribune Juive:
"[T]his affair is... the illustration for those who might still need it, of the vital utility of Israel so that justice is done to the Jews all over the world. This evidence, inaugurated with the Eichmann trial, unfortunately regains all its force due to the failure of French justice".
A renowned French psychiatrist, Charles Melman, founder of the International Freudian Association, observed that a verdict based on an "acute delirium" leading to no longer being responsible for one's actions is medically unacceptable, because cannabis does not induce delirium, but only suspends inhibitions:
"[T]he murderer clearly discerned the reference text which could guide his action, and far from creating confusion in him, cannabis only helped to lift ordinary inhibitions. The poison did not alter his behavior and his judgment, it magnified them."
Sarah Halimi is now part of the long list of Jews murdered in France by people imbued with Islamic antisemitic hatred. Sebastien Sellam, 23, was stabbed to death in November 2003 by his neighbor, Adel Amastaibou, who told police, "I killed a Jew. It was what Allah wanted". He had smoked cannabis. A psychiatrist said that he had committed a "delusional act". He was declared not responsible for his act by the court and quickly released. Ilan Halimi, 23 as well, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered less than three years later by a group led by Youssouf Fofana, who claimed that he had acted in the name of Allah. The atrocious attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19, 2012 by Mohamed Merah left four dead: three children and the father of two of them. The attack on a kosher supermarket near Paris also left four dead, all Jews. Mireille Knoll, an 85 year-old woman who had survived the Holocaust ,was murdered in Paris by her neighbor, Yacine Mihoub, a few miles from Sarah Halimi's apartment, on March 23, 2018, less than a year after the murder of Sarah Halimi.
Every year in France, dozens of violent physical attacks against Jews take place. The French Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community states that 44 attacks occurred in 2020, some extremely serious. Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Office for Vigilance Against Antisemitism, remarked that attacks against Jews in France are far more numerous, but that their victims are often afraid to file a complaint.
"Without French Jews", said former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls after the attack on the kosher supermarket, "France is not France".
On April 25 in Paris, Sarah Halimi's brother, William Attal, addressed a crowd. Once again, he explained in detail the atrocities suffered by his sister and added that a country where an antisemitic murderer can be freed by a questionable decision of the judiciary is a fallen country. "Is France," he asked, "still France?'
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.