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Suspected French Murder Gang Leader Found in Ivory Coast


A Paris gang leader suspected of taking part in the brutal killing of a French Jewish man faces quick repatriation to France, after being caught in Ivory Coast.

During interrogations in Abidjan by French and Ivorian police, Youssouf Fofana is reported to have admitted to the crime, but said murder was not his intention, and that there were no anti-semitic dimensions to the plot.

He was caught late Wednesday inside a car, at a roadblock in the Abobo district, carrying a sleeping bag. Ivorian police had tracked him down after he apparently flew on a commercial flight to Abidjan under his own name and then had checked into a budget hotel under his own name as well.

Fofana, a French citizen of Ivorian origin, is reported to have already been in Ivory Coast once since the death of Ilan Halimi of torture injuries. Halimi died shortly after being found gagged, burned and naked near a railway line outside Paris, earlier this month.

Halimi went missing in late January after apparently being lured into a trap by a woman.

The gang allegedly led by Fofana sought ransom money. At least four of their targets in botched kidnapping attempts were also Jewish. Some suspects already arrested in the case were quoted by French government ministers as saying this was because they thought Jews are rich.

An Ivorian journalist who has been closely following the case, Varlet Asia, says Fofana's quick arrest shows Ivory Coast, also known as Cote d'Ivoire, cooperated fully with France, despite problems with the former colonial power, related to a three-year civil war.

"This is the proof that Cote d'Ivoire is not a very closed country," said Asia. "We are open and we are ready to give the possibility to anyone to come in Cote d'Ivoire and have his mission realized."

But he denied any links between the crime and the current dance craze in Abidjan known as coupe-decale - literally "cut and slide." The lyrics of the music glorify Ivorian DJs who go to Europe and use pretty African women to steal credit cards from rich Europeans, before escaping back to Africa, drinking champagne and wearing fancy clothes.

"This has nothing to do with coupe decale. It maybe is an accident of mingling of things of both attitudes. We have on one part a criminal who has killed someone, on the other part, some guys maybe doing some poor things but not killing anyone," he added.

The woman suspected of luring the victim to a fake date in the suburbs of Paris is already being held in France, along with a dozen others.

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