Affaire Sarah Halimi: Why the brutal murder of a Jewish woman in Paris could now be tried in Israel

A high-profile and horrifying murder case in France could now be the subject of a court case in Israel, after the victim's sister said the French justice system had failed.

Affaire Sarah Halimi: Why the brutal murder of a Jewish woman in Paris could now be tried in Israel
France's highest court the Cour de Cassation has ruled that the killer cannot stand trial. Photo: Christophe Archambault/AFP

What happened?

Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman was murdered in her apartment in Paris in 2017.

The brutality of the attack – retired doctor and mother-of-three Halimi was beaten before being thrown out of the window – shocked and appalled France, but the killer was quickly apprehended.

Kobili Traore, 27, who lived in the same building, has been in secure psychiatric custody ever since the murder.

What about a trial?

This is where the case gets controversial – there has never been any doubt that Traore killed Halimi and that he was a heavy cannabis smoker, but opinions have differed over whether he was fit to stand trial for the murder.

After hearing from experts, the French court ruled that he committed the killing after succumbing to cannabis psychosis and was thus not responsible for his actions. He was therefore remanded into psychiatric care, where he remains.

This ruling was appealed to the highest French court the Cour de cassation, which upheld the ruling that Traore was not fit to stand trial.

Halimi’s family and Jewish groups have called for the case to be tried as an anti-Semitic hate crime, as Traore was heard to shout Allahu-Akbar (God is great) as he attacked his victim.

Jewish groups said the court ruling had made Jews less safe in France, while lawyers representing Halimi’s family said they intend to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Is there any chance of a trial now in France?

There are growing calls to change the law in this area, including from the French president Emmanuel Macron

“Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should, not in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” Macron told Le Figaro in an interview published Monday.

“I would like Justice Minister (Eric Dupond-Moretti) to present a change in the law as soon as possible,” he added.

But the case could move to Israel?

Criminal law in Israel can apply to crimes of anti-Semitism committed abroad when complaints are filed by Israeli citizens – in this case Sarah Halimi’s sister Esther Lekover.

Lawyers Francis Szpiner and Gilles-William Goldnadel said in a statement late on Wednesday they would “take a complaint to Israeli courts against Kobili Traore in the name of Esther Lekover, the victim’s sister”.

But, as a rule, France does not extradite its citizens.

Is there any other controversy around the case?

Yes, the French police came in for heavy criticism for their response to calls for help from Halimi’s frantic neighbours as the attack took place. They first went to the wrong address then waited outside the building until an elite squad arrived as Traore continued to attack her before finally throwing her out of the window.

For several months authorities hesitated to label the killing as an anti-Semitic attack, prompting criticism from several public figures who said the case demonstrated that anti-Semitism was not taken seriously enough by French authorities.

Member comments

  1. Seriously? the Local France has become a Zionist collaborator. Just because someone is of Arabic descent or speaks Arabic DOES NOT AUTOMATCIALLY make them a terrorist, nor their actions “terrorism.” ANYONE can be a terrorist. A French National, a Isreali -French person, a priest, a white person… ANYONE. Today’s edition features TWO articles essentially perpetuating systematic racism and religion bias. Similarly… just because some is Jewish does not mean that a crime or comment about them DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY mean it’s anti-Semitism. Saying so is hypocritical, unethical, bad journalism, and just plain wrong. Simply UNACCEPTABLE.

    We’ve suspected that the Local France was a bit too Zionist propaganda and today proves it. VERY disappointed.

    1. Sounds like the shouting of “Allahu Akbar” was a bit of a clue then.

      More correct is Macron saying he wants the law strengthened so those who take illegal drugs remain responsible for their crimes. It does sound as though a criminal who took a drug which is not generally known for making people aggressive, has been continuing to hide behind this inaccurate excuse for too long.

      Under those circumstances where – regardless of the victim’s religion French justice has failed – then do you blame the victim’s country for trying to get justice? regardless of that country’s religion.

      I think that is the point of the article.

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Pressure mounts on France’s new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

French President Emmanuel Macron's newly appointed disabilities minister was facing mounting pressure to resign on Monday after the emergence of rape allegations from over a decade ago.

Pressure mounts on France's new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

The accusations against Damien Abad, which he denies, are a major headache for Macron and his new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as they seek to keep political momentum after his April presidential poll victory and ahead of June parliamentary elections.

They also come after several politicians running for parliament stepped down in recent weeks over alleged violence against women.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle on Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right wing opposition.

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s new government 

But the next day, the Mediapart news site reported a politics watchdog group created by members of France’s MeToo movement had informed prosecutors as well as Macron’s LREM party of rape claims against Abad by two women in 2010 and 2011.

The government’s new spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire on Monday denied that Macron and his government were aware of the allegations when Abad had been appointed.

One of the women told Mediapart that in 2010 she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in pain with Abad in a hotel room, and believes she may have been drugged.

She has not filed an official complaint, but prosecutors are looking into the case following a report filed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics.

The other woman, named only as Margaux, said that her sexual encounter with Abad in 2011 began as consensual, but accuses him of then forcing anal sex on her.

The report said she informed the police in 2012 but then declined to formally make a complaint, and her subsequent claim in 2017 was later dismissed by prosecutors.

“I’m relieved that it’s come out, because I knocked on quite a few doors so that someone would do something after the case was dismissed, as I thought it was unfair,” Margaux told AFP on Sunday.

“A lot of people knew but some preferred to look away rather than ask more questions,” she added.

Abad said in a statement he contested “in the strongest way” the allegations, arguing his own disability means he is incapable of sexually assaulting anyone.

The newly appointed minister has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints, which he says means sexual relations can only occur with the help of a partner.

The allegations overshadowed the new cabinet’s first meeting on Monday, with Gregoire facing a string of questions on the case.

“The government is with those who, following an assault or harassment, have the immense courage to speak out,” Gregoire told reporters.

She added it is up to the judicial system to establish the truth and that, to her knowledge, “no other procedure against Damien Abad is in the works”.

But politicians on the left called for his immediate resignation.

“If I were prime minister, I would tell Damien Abad: ‘I have no particular reason to believe the women are lying… While we wait for a decision from the judicial system, I wish for you not to be part of the government,'” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

Green politician Sandrine Rousseau also called for Abad to go.

“We need to send a loud enough message to women, that their voices count,” Rousseau told RTL radio.

Borne, herself only appointed last week in the reshuffle, said on Sunday there could be no impunity for harassment and sexual assault.

“If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences,” Borne said.

In 2020, Macron’s decision to appoint Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – although he was accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism, even sparking demonstrations.

Darmanin, who kept his job in the reshuffle, has denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.