The family of Ilan Halimi, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed in an attack that appears to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitism, will not attend the demonstration against racism and anti-Semitism that is scheduled to take place in Paris today in response to the murder, but will hope for its success, the family's attorneys said yesterday.
The rally - which is due to be attended by numerous public figures, including government ministers - has become controversial due to the planned participation of representatives of two right-wing political movements, the National Front and the Movement for France (known by its French initials MPF).
On Friday, the anti-racism organization MARP announced that it would refuse to attend the rally for this reason, charging that both movements were using Halimi's murder to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment and thereby encouraging racism. The National Front, for instance, described the murder as "the result of 40 years of uncontrolled immigration," while the MPF denounced "the Islamization of France."
The Human Rights League said on Friday that it would participate in the rally, but demanded that the National Front and the MPF be barred from attending and denounced CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community, for remaining silent about the MPF's participation even as it urged that the National Front be barred. The Jewish Students' Association has also condemned the participation of the two political movements.
Meanwhile, the French daily Liberation reported yesterday that Halimi's kidnappers had also threatened several prominent businessmen, lawyers and a well-known humanitarian activist.
Citing police officials, Liberation said that the group behind the killing, which authorities have linked to anti-Semitic views, tried to extort money from a founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, as well as the director of the Arte TV channel, a Paris lawyer and the head of a supermarket chain.
Rony Brauman, a founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres who is of Jewish origin, confirmed on LCI television that he had been the object of an extortion attempt in 2004. However, Brauman said that he did not believe anti-Semitism played a role in his case or in those of others who were threatened for money in the same period.
"The question of being Jewish had no incidence ... It was pure extortion," he said. In April 2004, Brauman received a letter demanding some 350,000 euros or his life.
Liberation quoted him as saying that the letter contained a photograph of armed, hooded men in front of Brauman's home, south of Paris. Several months later, two Molotov cocktails exploded in the courtyard of his home and a gunshot was fired at his door, he told LCI.
Arte director Jerome Clement said on France 2 TV that he received a video cassette showing hooded men firing bazookas and machine guns and saying, "Look what will happen to you if you don't pay the ransom."
The brutal killing of Halimi, 23, has revived concerns of anti-Semitism in France. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday that while Halimi's attackers were primarily motivated by greed, "they believed, and I quote, 'that Jews have money.' That's called anti-Semitism."
Sarkozy said that the gang had tried to kidnap six other people since December, of whom four were Jewish.
On Thursday, President Jacques Chirac attended a memorial ceremony for Halimi at the Paris synagogue.
Halimi, a cell phone salesman, was kidnapped on January 21, and his family later received ransom demands, starting with one for around $537,000 (452,000 euros). He was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burns on February 13 near railroad tracks south of Paris. He died on his way to a hospital.
Police investigating the killing have made several arrests. Fourteen people have been placed under investigation - a step short of being charged - and two more people were detained Friday for questioning. The suspected gang leader, Youssef Fofana, a French citizen, was arrested Wednesday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and France is seeking his extradition.