Portrait of Sarah Halimi. Photo courtesy of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement.
Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of violence.
In April 2017, Sarah Halimi — a 65-year-old retired kindergarten director — was beaten and thrown to her death from her apartment in Paris by her neighbor, Kobili Traoré.
Four years after her murder, the French court ruled that Traoré is not criminally responsible for Halimi’s death because he was smoking cannabis at the time.
In the early morning of April 4th, 2017 at 4:25 a.m., Traoré, a convicted drug dealer, entered Halimi’s apartment by force.
Traoré — then 27 years old — lived with his mother, stepfather and brother down the street from Halimi’s apartment. That night, Traoré had an argument at home with his family and was in an emotional state, according to reports.
Traoré got so aggressive that the entire family locked themselves in the bedroom and his stepfather called the cops. Three policemen responded within 13 minutes. But they entered the wrong apartment building. During that time, Traoré climbed into Halimi’s apartment, which was located in the neighbouring building.
Around 4:45 a.m., the police received a second call from a neighbour who thought a man was beating his wife. Other neighbours said they heard Traoré shouting “Allahu akbar,” “shut your mouth,” and “you sheitan!” meaning devil or Satan, according to Tablet Magazine.
Six policemen stood at the Traoré’s family door as they waited for an elite squid to intervene. When law enforcement arrived around 5 a.m., Traoré had already beaten and killed Halimi, Tablet Magazine reported further.
After the attack, Traoré went back to his family’s apartment through the balcony. He resumed praying until he was arrested without resistance at 5:35 a.m. He was then placed in a psychiatric institution, where he currently remains, France 24 reported.
Anti-Semitism, or Insanity?
Many believe the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism as witnesses heard Traoré, who is Muslim, shout “Allahu akbar,” and “you sheitan” while he attacked Haliti, who was Jewish.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister, Omer Yankelevich believes “Halimi was murdered only because she was a Jew.”
In April of this year, the New York Times reported that the Court of Cassation — the highest court in France — ruled that Traoré cannot stand trial because he was in an acute mental state at the time of the murder. Specifically, experts determined that Traoré acted in a “delirious fit” due to his heavy cannabis use.
According to Article 122-1 of the French penal code, any person who performs a crime while suffering from a psychological or neuropsychological disorder will not be criminally liable.
Response to the Traoré’s Verdict
Four years after Halimi’s murder, the Court of Cassation’s verdict ended the judicial proceedings in France for the case.
In response, thousands gathered in major cities. There were gatherings in Paris, Tel Aviv, London, Rome, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, The Jerusalem Post reported. Halimi’s brother, William Attal, and her son, Yonathan, attended demonstrations held at Paris’ Place Du Trocadero.
Since then, French President Emmanuel Macron urged officials to amend Article 122 to prevent offenders from citing intoxication as a reason to escape justice.
“Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should, not in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” Macron told Europe1. “I would like Justice Minister [Eric Dupond-Moretti] to present a change in the law as soon as possible.”
President Macron says it is not his place to comment on court decisions. But, he explained that France will protect its Jewish community.
“I want to assure the family, relatives of the victim, and all fellow citizens of Jewish faith … my warm support and the determination of the Republic to protect them,” Macron said.
In 2019, President Macron urged the Ministry of Interior to take steps to ban racist and anti-Semitic groups. Furthermore, he singles out three far-right groups — Bastion Social, Blood and Honour Hexagone, and Combat 18 — which he said “fuel hatred, promote discrimination or call for violence.”
Anti-Semitism Continues to Surge
According to reports, anti-Semitic crimes in France rose by 74% in 2018. Such crimes include homicides, attempted killings, beatings, threats, hate speech and vandalism.
In one incident, a Jewish man was beaten on the Paris Metro. His attacker reportedly said, “Jew, we are going to lay into you, you have no country.”
Recently, The Combat Anti-Semitism Movement launched a social media campaign to seek justice for Halimi. The campaign uses the hashtag #JusticeForSarah to show solidarity with Halimi’s family and France’s Jewish community, reports the Times of Israel.
As of now, French Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said that he will present a bill this month in response to the current Article 122-1 of the French penal code regarding the consequences of the voluntary use of drugs.