The New York Times reported that Youssouf Fofana, the son of Muslim immigrants from the Ivory Coast, was the leader of a gang that targeted prominent French Jews, first for extortion and then for kidnapping.
After several botched abduction attempts, the group snatched 23 year old Ilan Halimi, who worked in a Jewish owned cell phone store in Paris in January 2006.
Halimi was brutally tortured for several weeks before being released into a wooded by his captors and was ultimately found bloodied, covered in stab wounds, with his hands tied and his eyes and mouth covered with tape. He died on his way to a nearby hospital where an autopsy revealed that he had burns covering 60 percent of his body.
The investigation into Halimi’s death revealed that in their ransom demands, kidnappers told family members that if they didn’t have the ransom money they should “get it from your synagogue.” In another communication with a French rabbi, gang members said “We have a Jew.”
A total of 19 people were arrested in the high profile murder case and Fofana began serving a life sentence in 2009.
Criminal attorney Joseph Cohen-Sabban, told VOA News Africa that he was another of Fofana’s victims, most of whom were Jewish. According to Cohen-Sabba, his home had been broken into on three separate occasions in 2004 and he received videotaped death threats accompanied by demands for thousands of dollars.
Lawyer Elias Stansal said that the extortion attempts against Cohen-Sabban were blatantly anti-Semitic.
“If Fofana addressed him, it is because is a renowned lawyer but also because he is Jewish,” said Stansal.
Prosecutors said that Fofana had attempted to extort 42 people, sending grenades to some of his victims while tossing Molotov cocktails onto the property of Rony Brauman, a well known French physician who was one of the early members of Doctors without Borders.
75 minutes into the court proceedings, Fofana described himself as a “trader of terror” and asked to be returned to his cell, prompting prosecutors to note that he was unchanged by his time in prison and was “obsessed with money.”
Fofana’s extortion sentence will run concurrently with his life sentence for Halimi’s murder and he will be eligible for parole in 2028.