PARIS — French authorities are saying the recent captivity and beating of a 19-year-old Jewish man in a Paris suburb was committed by delinquents, related to money and fuelled by alcohol. But the Jewish community here is instinctively linking the Feb. 22 incident to the torture and murder two years ago of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jewish man.
“Everyone is thinking about Ilan,” said pharmacist Danielle Brami in the Belleville district of Paris. “We know very well that the two incidents are not the same. But people were very scared when Ilan was killed, and now this incident also provokes fear – fear that Jews are in danger.”
In last month’s incident, Mathieu Roumi was held for nine hours in a garage by six men of various ethnic and religious backgrounds aged 17 to 25. They handcuffed Roumi, then beat and kicked him over money he allegedly owed them.
They then scribbled “sale juif” – “dirty Jew” – with a marker on his face while making references to Halimi, who was kidnapped and tortured for three weeks before he was dumped on the streets. He died shortly thereafter.
Roumi was held in Bagneux, where he and his attackers lived, and the same suburb just south of Paris where Halimi was killed by a gang calling itself the Barbarians. More than two dozen people, notably gang leader Youssouf Fofana, go on trial soon for Halimi’s murder.
Unlike Halimi, however, Roumi knew his aggressors and went with them voluntarily to an apartment to discuss their financial dispute before he was taken to a nearby garage.
The alleged assailants were arrested Feb. 27 and held for several days before being formally charged with violence linked to the religion and alleged sexual orientation of the victim, acts of torture, and sequestration by an organized gang.
Believing Roumi was a homosexual, they had forced him to swallow cigarette butts and suck on a condom-covered stick. They also wrote “dirty fag” on his face and yelled their admiration for Fofana.
Jewish community officials say the fact that an ordinary argument over money in the neighbourhood could escalate into a violent captivity with an anti-Semitic nature is dangerous.
“There is a kind of banalization of anti-Semitic acts going on here,” said Joel Mergui, the head of the French Consistoire, the Jewish body of religious affairs. “These guys knew each other from the neighbourhood, but they handcuffed him for nine hours and scribbled ‘dirty Jew’ on his face.”
Richard Prasquier, the president of the Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, said Roumi had a non-Jewish mother and his father “is not connected to the Jewish community.”
Prasquier was only informed of the affair on Wednesday morning, though police had told the Jewish community’s protection service when officials confirmed the anti-Semitic character of the violence.
The CRIF head said there is nothing to indicate any breakdown in communications.
“The police had to conduct their investigation, and they did their job,” he said.
Police said the six suspects, who reportedly admitted their actions to police, were unemployed and have had trouble with the law.
Roumi has been out of school for two years and has no criminal record, but he has been involved in cases of theft, the sale of stolen objects and vandalism, his father, Jean-Paul, was quoted as saying in the Le Figaro newspaper Thursday.
“These guys are all delinquents and apparently not too bright,” said Armand Funaro, an osteopath in upper Belleville. “It used to be that petty criminal activity in tough suburbs stayed just that, but now there is this anti-Semitic element, and it is scary. And Bagneux is a nice place, not at all a ghetto.
“In Tunisia, these things did not happen to us, but in secular, republican France they happen.”
Funaro became more agitated as he went on.
His voice rising, he said, “The public school system is failing. The kids who become losers are ignored by the system and by the general public. The Gallic French have always ignored petty criminality in the suburbs, and if it turns anti-Semitic often enough, they will ignore that also. And that is bad for the Jews in France.”