Iwenty-three year-old Ilan Halimi worked at a cellular phone store in the boulevard Voltaire in Paris. Young and Jewish, he was approached in January, 2006 in the store by a young girl of Iranian origin aged 17, who called herself Yalda. They flirted with each other, swapped phone numbers, and arranged a rendezvous for January 21. Ilan turned up for the date, but in addition to meeting the seductive young woman who had chatted with him earlier, he was met by three members of a gang that called itself "The Barbarians". The gang members were mostly Muslim, and their leader was a 26-year old, originally from the Cote d'Ivoire, called Youssouf Fofana.
The gang took Ilan to the Pierre-Plate housing project in Bagneux in the suburban district of Hauts-de-Seine. The gang had rented an apartment in one of the blocks, but Ilan was destined to be imprisoned in a pump room in the basement. He screamed for two minutes as the hooded thugs carried him off. The gang had a close relationship with the janitor at the housing block. Up to 30 people in the building would eventually know what was going on beneath them, but no-one bothered to call the police.
For Yalda, her part in the plan was over. She had been paid $6,000 to seek out a victim, and on the night of the kidnap, she and her boyfriend whooped it up in a hotel room paid for by the gang. Fofana had been impressed by Yalda's good looks, and had told her: "With you I can do wonders. With your physique you'll make a fortune." A worker in a store adjoining Ilan's workplace had noticed a young brunette (Yalda) acting strangely three days before the kidnapping. He said: "One of our seasoned salesman picked up immediately that she hadn't come to buy, but to 'fish'." She had passed through five shops before homing in on Ilan.
For Ilan Halimi, his abduction was the start of three weeks of torture. Tied up naked, with his face covered, he was subjected to a catalogue of abuse. Cigarettes were burned into his skin, and cuts were made on his face. While Ilan was held hostage, his family received ransom demands. Initially, the kidnappers demanded that the Halimi family provide 400,000 Euros ($475,000). Ilan's mother Ruth told them that they did not have access to such a sum. The family was told to get money from a synagogue. Ilan's family also had to listen to quotes from the Koran, given by those responsible for torturing their son. Speaking on stolen cellular phones, the kidnappers dropped the ransom to 5,000 Euros ($5,900), but in the first week of February, the calls stopped.
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Within the French Jewish communities, there are arguments over the necessity of "aliyah" or return to Israel, though there is more consensus on the issue of what is driving Jews out of France. In 2005, Roger Cukierman, president of CRIF, said that the dangers were over-emphasized, conceding that "France is not an anti-Semitic country, though violence from North African Muslims is on the increase."
Nicolas Sarkozy, whose mother is of French and Ottoman-Jewish descent, became France's president in May. His good relations with the Jewish communities in France have created an atmosphere of greater security. As a result, the figure for French Jews leaving for Israel is expected to fall this year.
For Ilan Halimi, whose life was tormented and cut short by Muslim anti-Semitism, the Jewish Agency for Israel arranged that after his death, he too should make aliyah. Since 2004, even Jewish cemeteries have not been safe from anti-Semitic attack. Ilan's family had agreed that they would "tie their fate with the State of Israel". On February 11, 2007, almost a year since his death, Ilan's body was re-interred far from the scene of his torture, laid to rest in a cemetery in Jerusalem.
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