A French Jewish leader demanded police investigate the death of a Jewish woman earlier this month as a murder, and not as an act of insanity.
Joel Mergui, president of the Consistoire organization that provides religious services to French Jews, cited reports that the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for God is great, before pushing his victim out of the window on Vaucouleurs Street in the crime-ridden 11th district of the French capital.
“I refuse to accept the convenient pretext of madness for a murderer who tried to make the victim look like a suicide case in front of witnesses who were powerless to act,” Megui wrote in a statement Thursday.
His demand marks the first open dispute between French authorities and Jewish leaders over the death of Sarah Halimi, 66, on April 4 in Paris. The suspect is her 27-year-old neighbor.
Relatives of Halimi said that she had previously experienced anti-Semitic harassment by a relative of the man under arrest.
Community members and an anti-Semitism watchdog group have been urging the Consistoire and CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, to criticize the police’s handling of the killing as an act of insanity. Both groups have resisted such pressure, citing the ongoing investigation into the incident.
French parliamentarian Meyer Habib has called on state authorities to investigate the crime as an anti-Semitic attack, though. In a lengthy Facebook post, he said the suspect had routinely harassed Halimi, calling her and her daughter “dirty Jews.”
At a march co-organized by CRIF in memory of Halimi days after the killing, some participants broke off to confront residents of her heavily Muslim 11th district.
Mergui wrote in his statement: “It is more than legitimate to look into the anti-Semitic character of this murder, in light of the fact that many people told us that Sarah Halimi, of blessed memory, who was the only Jewish resident of her building, lived in fear of her attacker.”
The Consistoire will join the victim’s family in a motion to try the suspect for murder with aggravated circumstances, Mergui wrote.
The suspect was put into a psychiatric evaluation shortly after his arrest on April 4 and has stayed there since.
“In light of my commitment to the memory of Sarah Halimi and to the dignity of her family, I must express the legitimate questions of the entire Jewish community over the hate of a murderer who continued to cry to Allah while butchering his Jewish neighbor,” Mergui wrote in the statement.
He also wrote that evidence shows Halimi was “tortured” before she was thrown out of the window, which follows a report earlier this month that claimed she was beaten before being pushed.
Halimi is survived by her son who lives in Israel and two daughters who live in France.