The pretty schoolgirl known as Yalda wore tight white trousers and thigh-high boots to the rendezvous. Her target, a young Jewish telephone salesman, quickly fell under her spell. He meekly followed her when she suggested a nightcap at her place.
It would be his last date.
The testimony of this 17-year-old femme fatale who happily offered herself as ‘bait’ in the kidnapping of Ilan Halimi, whose tortured body was found on wasteland, has shocked a country which is haunted by a painful history of anti-semitism.
Yalda’s only moment of doubt came when she heard Halimi’s shrieks as he was carried away by thugs in balaclava helmets. “He screamed for two minutes, with a high-pitched voice like a girl,” she told investigators.
She soon forgot, however. On Halimi’s first night in captivity, she and her boyfriend celebrated in a hotel room paid for by the kidnappers.
Forget the French idyll portrayed in such books as A Year in Provence. France is being forced to confront her dark side as details emerge of horrific crimes in the suburbs.
Testimony from this grim underbelly, the immigrant banlieues — literally “places of banishment” — has fortified the elite’s view of young immigrants on the wrong side of the Paris ring road as “barbarians at the gate”.
For years the Parisian establishment has quaked at the prospect of angry hordes invading their affluent heartland and last week that nightmare came true as gangs of hooded youths robbed and bludgeoned white students attending anti-government demonstrations.
Disquiet about the spread of barbarism across the boulevard pÃ©riphÃ©rique has been fuelled by the chilling story of Yalda.
The gang she worked for was known as “les Barbares”, the Barbarians, and included blacks, Arabs and whites from Portugal and France.
Barbarians seemed an appropriate name. The shocking cruelty inflicted on Halimi seemed to have little to do with efforts to extract money from his anguished family. It evoked the sadistic moral universe of A Clockwork Orange, the novel by Anthony Burgess, with a dose of anti-semitism thrown in.
Thanks to Yalda’s charms, Halimi was imprisoned and tortured with acid and cigarette burns for more than three weeks in the heart of a council estate.
More than 30 neighbours in the building knew what was happening but said nothing about the crime, part of a worrying wave of attacks against Jews all over the country.
Besides Yalda, several women have been arrested in an investigation into their role in botched efforts to lure other Jewish men into “honey traps”.
“He wanted a Jew,” a girl called Audrey told police, referring to Youssouf Fofana, the charismatic leader of the Barbarians, who was listed by the girls in their telephone directories as “Youssouf the barbarian”.
His choice of victims was based on two anti-semitic myths: that Jews are all rich and that they stick together. “They’re a big community,” Fofana told Audrey. “United and willing to pay.”
Audrey lost her nerve after reeling in two targets, one of whom was rejected when it turned out that he was not a Jew. She infuriated Fofana when she failed to follow up on her second victim. “When you start something you have to finish it,” he shouted.
Tifenn, a small, dark 19-year-old from Brittany, was also a procurer in this macabre operation. She described herself as being less “sexy” than the other girls and said that her role was limited to putting prettier school friends in touch with Fofana.
Like Audrey and Yalda, Tifenn attended a boarding school on the outskirts of Paris that was funded by social services. Yalda had been followed by children’s courts and was receiving counselling: at 13 she had been the victim of une tournante — as the commonplace ritual of gang rape has come to be known in the suburbs.
Other examples of savagery in these lawless enclaves were exposed on Friday at the trial of Jamal Derrar. He was accused of burning 17-year-old Sohane Benziane to death in 2002 in Vitry-Sur-Seine, where last year’s orgy of suburban rioting began, after she defied his order to stay away from his “territory”.
“You’re frightened, huh?” he jeered, according to testimony, after pouring petrol over her head and taking out his cigarette lighter. He lit the lighter several times in front of her face to torment her to tears until finally setting her alight.
“It is barbarism,” Kahina, the victim’s sister, said last week. “I want barbarism rejected. It is becoming so banal. We are not in a war. I refuse to live in a country that cannot defend its citizens.”
Another girl, 18-year-old Chahrazad Belayni, was doused with petrol by a suitor and set alight in November last year. She remains in a coma. In Marseilles in 2004, Ghofrane Haddaoui, a 23-year-old woman from the suburbs, was stoned to death by a gang of youths.
The choice of Halimi as a victim because he was Jewish was a particularly distressing component of the crime for a nation whose anti-semitic past included wartime collaboration in the transfer of Jews to the death camps.
France has the biggest Muslim and Jewish populations of any European country and in some suburbs it is not uncommon to see anti-Jewish grafitti. “We’ve got blacks and Arabs in one camp and then it is the Jews in the other,” said Mamadou Menibe, a young man of west African origin from Vitry-Sur-Seine.
The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France claims that violent attacks against Jews began rising abruptly in France at the start of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000.
Some experts say it has been fuelled by DieudonnÃ© M’Bala M’Bala, a popular comedian who blames Jews for the suffering of blacks and was found guilty last month of incitement to racial hatred.
The hostility has led thousands of French Jews to move to Israel in the past five years, including about 3,300 last year, the highest number in 35 years.
So obsessed was Fofana, the Barbarians’ leader, with targeting Jews that he had established which shops were Jewish by checking which of them closed during Jewish holidays.
When he met Yalda he was impressed. “With you,” he said, “I can do wonders. With your physique you’ll make a fortune . . . all the boys will fall into the trap.”
He offered her Â£3,000 to approach Halimi in his shop and lure him to a meeting. She got Halimi’s number and rang him up to ask him out on a date.
She told her friend Tifenn that she found Halimi “friendly” and “cute”. After they met in a cafe, she invited him back to her fictitious flat on the other side of the ring road. The Barbarians were lying in wait.
Some commentators seem traumatised by too much reality, upbraiding the foreign media for painting “la belle France” in an unflattering light. But the truth is ugly, particularly when it comes to the barbarians camped at the gate.
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