February 19, 2008 / 10:09 AM / 11 years ago

Gang to face trial for brutal murder of French Jew

PARIS (Reuters) - Twenty-one suspected members of a self-styled “gang of barbarians” will be tried in France for the kidnapping and murder of a young Jewish man in 2006, a legal source said on Tuesday.

Another seven suspects face trial for failing to report a crime, while one will be tried in a court for children because she was under 16 at the time of the attack on Ilan Halimi.

Halimi, 23, was found naked, tortured and covered in burns near Paris on February 13, 2006 after being held captive for three weeks in a crime that shocked France and raised fears of surging anti-Semitism among French Muslims. He died of his injuries soon afterwards.

The kidnappers used a pretty young woman to entice Halimi into a trap, dragging the telephone salesman into a cellar where they proceeded to beat and torment him.

Police say the gang attempted a string of kidnappings of Jewish youths before capturing Halimi. They then sent a series of ransom demands to his parents, asking for as much as 450,000 euros, but lengthy negotiations failed to secure his release.

The self-proclaimed “brain of the Barbarians”, Youssouf Fofana, was eventually arrested in the Ivory Coast.

Fofana and 18 other suspects are in jail pending the trial, which will be heard before a juvenile court because some of their number were youths at the time of the attack.

No trial date was set and a judicial source said it might not be held until 2009.

Fofana has told police he led the gang and organized Halimi’s kidnapping but has denied killing him.

Reporting by Thierry Leveque; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Catherine Evans

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