Chirac, de Villepin attend memorial ceremony for slain Jewish youthPARIS - Cries of "vive la France" and "la justice" accompanied President Jacques Chirac, his wife Bernadette and Premier Dominique de Villepin last night as they left the memorial evening held here yesterday for Ilan Halimi. The ceremony, which was held in the Grand Synagogue on rue de la Victoire, was seen by many in the Jewish community as the state leaders' formal declaration that anti-Semitism was to blame for the horrific kidnapping, torture and murder of the 23-year-old Parisian.
At 5 P.M., two hours before the ceremony's official opening, police cars surrounded the synagogue area. Police at roadblocks inspected the bag of everyone who entered the area. Hundreds of thousands of people crowded on either side of the street, waiting their turn to enter the synagogue. At the synagogue's entrance police used metal detectors and checked the identity cards and passports of all who pushed in.
The synagogue's 3,000 seats were full, dozens more mourners stood in the aisles and many thousands remained outside and could not get in.
During the chilling ceremony, an 8-year-old read the Psalm "I will raise my eyes to the mountains, whence will come my help?" near a giant picture of Halimi.
Halimi's family and others in the Jewish community said that had the authorities admitted earlier that the young man had been attacked for being a Jew, he could possibly have been saved.
Halimi was found dying, covered with burns and cuts, on Monday February 13. He had been kidnapped three weeks earlier, after a Muslim gang sent a blonde to seduce him. Halimi had agreed to meet with her after meeting in a chat room. Immediately after his abduction his mother went to the police, saying he was kidnapped by anti-Semites. Sources in the community said three Jewish youngsters had managed to escape similar abdications in recent months.
The police told Halimi's mother, Ruth, to stop all telephone connection with the kidnappers, as a way of forcing them to use electronic mail, which was traceable.
The police did not know that during the five days in which the kidnappers tried in vain to contact Halimi's family, Halimi suffered terrible torture. One of the kidnappers said, "We put our cigarettes out on him because he was a Jew."
A few days after Halimi was found, the Paris public prosecutor, Jean-Claude Marin, told the media that the murder was a criminal event, and "no element of the current investigation could link this murder to an anti-Semitic declaration or action."
The reports about Halimi in France did not mention that he was Jewish. Halimi's family was livid. His mother accused the authorities of ignoring the anti-Semitic factor. "Had Ilan not been Jewish, he would not have been murdered," she said. She was widely quoted in the French media, and the authorities began to retreat.
On Tuesday French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that "the murder had anti-Semitic motives." "They kidnapped and murdered him because he was Jewish - in their words, the Jews have money," he said.
This coming Sunday a huge procession in his memory is scheduled to take place in Paris. Jewish organizations, French political parties and anti-violence groups are to join in the demonstration.
Assaf Uni also contributed to this report.