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French Police Pursue Murder Suspect in Ivory Coast


Two French police officers have been dispatched to Ivory Coast to hunt down a man suspected of participating in the torture and killing of a Jewish man in France. The French government suspects anti-Semitic motives behind the man's death, which has shocked the country.

At the annual dinner of France's Representative Jewish Council late Monday, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said he had ordered his government to shed all light possible on the death of 23-year-old mobile-telephone salesman Ilan Halimi.

The dead man, who was Jewish, was held captive for three weeks by a gang in a Paris suburb. He was brutally tortured before being killed by members of the gang, who called themselves The Barbarians.

According to reports, the gang cited anti-Semitic slurs and recited Koranic verses in telephone calls and e-mails to Halimi's family and to a local rabbi, in which they also demanded ransom.

Seven suspects are being questioned in relation to the killing. French police are also trying to track down the alleged gang leader, identified as Youssouf F. in Ivory Coast, where he reportedly fled.

Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, is calling for the full truth behind the Halimi killing.

Cukierman told French radio that it was hard to understand such a deluge of hatred if there was not some kind of racist or anti-Semitic or Satanic motive. It was important that full reality was shed on the killing, he said, and not an explanation aimed to avoid conflicts between communities.

French Jews also staged a protest last weekend, criticizing the government for allegedly minimizing Halimi's death. It has only been this week that authorities have suggested the killing may have a racist motive.

Anti-Semitism has long been a sensitive subject in France, home to Western Europe's largest Jewish community. The number of anti-Semitic attacks soared a few years ago, prompting a senior Israeli official to accuse France of being the most anti-Semitic country in the West.

But France's center-right government has made great efforts to crack down on anti-Semitism, and the registered number of anti-Jewish attacks has since declined. The drop has also earned praise from Israel.