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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 23:50 GMT
'Racist motive' to French kidnap
Police outside a housing estate when Ilan Halimi is believed to have been held
Halimi is believed to have been held on a housing estate
A young Jewish man who died after being kidnapped and tortured may have been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack, French officials say.

Seven people are under investigation for kidnapping and "murder linked to the victim's religion".

Justice Minister Pascal Clement said one of the suspects had made it clear he attacked had Ilan Halimi "because he was Jewish, and Jews are rich".

The 23-year-old died on the way to hospital last week.

In a case that has shocked France, the phone salesman was discovered naked, bound and gagged, and covered in burns near the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois train station near Paris.

State prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin had previously ruled out anti-Semitism, saying that the suspects were unemployed and motivated by money.

Ransom demands

On Monday, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told an annual meeting of Jewish community leaders that the judge handling the case was investigating leads pointing to an anti-Semitic attack.

"We will do everything we can to arrest the authors of this barbarous crime and bring them to justice," he added.

Jewish community leader Roger Cukierman urged the government to "provide the whole truth" about the case.

Halimi went missing on 21 January after a date with an unknown woman, who approached him at his workplace in central Paris. He is thought to have been held on a housing estate in Bagneux, in the Paris suburbs.

The young man's kidnappers sent a 400,000 euro (273,500; $475,000) ransom demand in e-mails and text messages to his family, which they were unable to raise.

The sum later dropped to 5,000 euros, after which the gang broke off contact.

The same gang is believed to have attempted six other kidnappings since the end of last year.

Fifteen people, aged 17 to 32, were arrested last week in connection with Halimi's death, but five have since been released.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Yussef Fofana, said to be the gang leader, and two women believed to have acted as bait for kidnap targets.

Country profile: France
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