Translation by Arun Kapil.
On March 23 in Paris, Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Jewish woman, was found dead in her apartment. Her body was partly burned from a fire that had been set, but the autopsy showed that she had been stabbed several times in the throat. Two men were quickly arrested. One of them, Yacine Mihoub, is the 28-year-old son of a neighbor of the victim. An alcoholic, he has had a history of psychiatric disorders and spent six months in prison, from which he was released in September 2017, for sexually molesting the 12-year-old daughter of Knoll’s care provider. He personally knew Knoll and spent the day of the murder in her apartment, drinking heavily. In the late afternoon, his sidekick, a 21-year-old drifter named Alex Carrimbacus, whom he had met in prison, came to the apartment after Mihoub had called him. What precisely happened in the apartment is still not clear, with both men accusing the other of having killed the elderly lady and then setting the fire. Carrimbacus affirms that he heard Mihoub yell, “Allah akbar!” Yacine swears that Alex is the murderer.
The French interior minister, Gérard Collomb, immediately declared that Yacine Mihoub is “not at all” linked to a jihadist organization. But the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) quickly presented the affair as an anti-Semitic crime. CRIF president Francis Kalifat called for a marche blanche—a silent march—in honor of the victim and to denounce the resurgence of anti-Semitism in France. The murder has shocked public opinion, and particularly the Jewish community. For many Jews, it makes little difference if the anti-Semitic character of the crime is proven or if it was simply committed by a psychopath. One understands the emotion of the Jewish community, for if the number of anti-Semitic attacks—which are relatively low—are not increasing in France, violent criminal ones are indeed.
The murder of Mireille Knoll, who, as a child, barely escaped the July 16-17, 1942, Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup—when the French police handed over 13,152 Jews to the Nazi occupiers, who deported them to the death camps—is the latest in a series of macabre crimes to afflict the Jewish community. First there was the 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, who was abducted and sequestered for three weeks in January-February 2006 and tortured by his kidnappers before dying of the physical abuse that he had sustained. The ringleader of the self-proclaimed “gang of barbarians,” the 25-year-old petty criminal Youssouf Fofana, said that Halimi, who was an employee in a mobile-phone shop in the same part of Paris where Mireille Knoll lived, was kidnapped for ransom, as Jews “have money.” Then there was the attack at the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse in March 2012, when three children and a rabbi were shot dead point-blank by the jihadist Mohammed Merah, who had killed three French soldiers—two of whom were Muslim—over the previous week. Finally, in January 2015, four people were killed in the attack on the kosher supermarket in Vincennes, a suburb bordering Paris, in the wake of the massacre at the office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. To this, one may add the April 2017 defenestration of Sarah Halimi, another elderly Jewish woman in Paris killed by a neighbor, bringing to 11 the number of people killed in France over a 12-year period simply for being Jews. This is unique in Europe.