PARIS (JTA) – Prosecutors investigating the April slaying of a Jewish woman by her neighbour said for the first time that her killing was an anti-Semitic hate crime.
The characterization by prosecutors Wednesday in the death of Sarah Halimi followed months of lobbying and protest by French Jews, who were outraged by the absence of aggravated circumstances in the indictment against Traore Kobili. The 27-year-old Muslim man confessed to the killing and was heard shouting about Allah and calling Halimi “Satan” shortly before throwing her out the window of her three-story apartment.
Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said in a statement to the media that he and other French Jews were “satisfied and relieved by the inclusion finally of an admission of the anti-Semitic character of the murder.”
Traore in his defense has claimed temporary insanity. Earlier this week, Le Figaro daily reported that Traore was found to have been under the influence of strong cannaboid drugs at the time of the incident, according to a psychiatric evaluation by an independent mental health professional. The evaluation nonetheless showed that Kobili may have been partially aware of his actions and therefore was legally accountable for them, Le Figaro reported.
For long weeks after the slaying of Halimi, a 66-year-old physician and kindergarten teacher, the mainstream media in France ignored claims by senior members of the French Jewish community that she was a victim of an anti-Semitic murder.
The incident occurred weeks ahead of a divisive presidential elections campaign in which the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, who was elected in May, ran on a platform championing tolerance against Marine Le Pen, a stridently anti-Muslim far-right politician.
Some French Jews, including Sammy Ghozlan, the head of the National Bureau for Vigilance against Anti-Semiticm, or BNVCA, said they feared the media and authorities were silencing the incident to prevent it from becoming fodder in Le Pen’s campaign. CRIF for weeks published on its website a counter showing the number of days in which authorities have not recognized the anti-Semitic elements in the Halimi killing and calling the omission a “cover-up.”
In an unusual move, Kalifat urged Macron to intervene in the Halimi investigation during an address Kalifat made in Macron’s presence at a July 17 commemoration for Holocaust victims in Paris. Macron replied in his address that the judiciary would look into the case.