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Poster at Place de la Porte-d'Auteuil in Paris: Justice denied for Sarah Halimi. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

The Sarah Halimi affair: Killing the victim twice

The lack of commitment on the left in the Sarah Halimi affair in France, has deeply shocked many. The murderer of Sarah Halimi, Kobili Traoré, will not be tried for his crime, according to his judges. But the victim is also being killed for a second time by silence.

Published: April 26, 2021, 11:25 am

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    Halimi was a retired French doctor and schoolteacher who was attacked and killed in her apartment by her neighbour on 4 April 2017. The circumstances surrounding the murder, including the fact that Halimi was the only Jewish resident in her building, was further highlighted by the assailant shouting “Allahu Akbar” during the attack. The murderer afterward even proclaimed “I killed the Shaitan”. To the French Jewish community, this is the most poignant example of anti-Semitism in France.

    But for several months the French government and media refused to label the killing as anti-Semitic, drawing criticism from Jewish public figures such as Alain Finkielkraut. The government eventually acknowledged an anti-Semitic motivation for the killing, but in 2019 the assailant was declared to be not criminally responsible because he had consumed cannabis, which induced a state of psychosis. The decision was appealed to the supreme Court of Cassation, who in 2021 upheld the lower court’s ruling.

    Oddly, French justice in the past had judged exactly the opposite in an identical and very recent case of February 13, 2018.

    In the case of Kobili Traoré, the psychiatrists were not unanimous. While some claimed that acute delirium due to absorption of cannabis had made him act in an irresponsible way, others concluded that it had caused only a slight alteration in his behaviour. Under these conditions, it was up to the court to decide, after an adversarial debate, whether he would be tried as a killer.

    The 65-year-old Jewish woman was savagely beaten and defenestrated from her third-floor apartment in the Belleville district of Paris.

    The African immigrant from Mali, reportedly became enraged following a family dispute and gained access to the neighbouring apartment of a different family, who immediately locked themselves into a bedroom, phoned police for help, and waited in fear as they listened to the intruder reciting verses from the Quran.

    The police initially went to the wrong building while Traoré climbed a balcony from the apartment where the family was hiding, to the apartment of Halimi, the only Jewish resident of the building. When police finally arrived at the apartment the intruder had entered first, they waited as more phone calls came in to the police emergency hotline reporting a woman screaming while a man was heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “I killed the Shaitan”.

    After throwing Halimi from a third-floor window, Traoré returned to the first apartment where the family, still cowering behind a locked door, again heard him praying aloud to Allah.

    Kobili Traoré, a drug dealer and drug addict, claimed insanity and was held in a psychiatric hospital, but one thing is certain: Traoré had a clear and coherent mind, during his so-called psychotic crisis, to unleash his murderous impulse on the only Jewish resident in the building. A hundred days after the killing, the suspect was still under examination for voluntary homicide, and the aggravating factor of anti-Semitism had been dropped. His criminal record included around twenty convictions for violence, theft, use or trafficking of narcotics, contempt, carrying a weapon and multiple other offences but no mention of a disorder, particular psychic.

    He sometimes went to the famous Omar mosque in rue Morand, “considered a temple of radical Islam”, and on the day of the murder he prayed there twice. William Attal, Sarah Halimi’s brother, told the police that his sister feared this man, who had previously called her a “dirty Jew” reported French daily le Figaro.

    According to Jean-Alexandre Buchinger, an attorney for the victim’s family, the killer ought to have been charged with “murder with anti-Semitism as an aggravating circumstance”, but that French Jewish groups believed that this had not been done out of fear of encouraging support for Marine Le Pen and the National Rally’s election campaign.

    In 2017, French writer Michel Onfray noted in a video about the silence surrounding the killing: “How can we kill this poor lady twice? By not giving this information the echo that it deserved, it was to consider that the echo of this murder counted for nothing”. He added that “whenever there is an escalation in terror, there is an escalation in the denial of terror. Every reality today is ignored and swept away ‘if it is likely to play the game of the National Front’. But reality always avenges itself one day”.

    Following the final decision of the supreme Court of Cassation this month, President Macron called for the law to be changed. Macron stated that France “does not judge citizens who are sick, we treat them… But deciding to take drugs and then ‘going crazy’ should not, in my opinion, take away your criminal responsibility”.

    Lawyers for Halimi’s family subsequently announced their intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

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