Page last updated at 19:04 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 20:04 UK

French Jewish murder trial opens

Ilan Halimi, file image
Ilam Halimi suffered weeks of torture before he was stabbed to death

The alleged leader of a French kidnap gang has gone on trial in Paris accused of torturing and killing a Jewish man - a crime that shocked France in 2006.

Youssouf Fofana - who admits kidnapping 23-year-old Ilan Halimi but denies killing him - shouted "God is great" in Arabic as he entered the courtroom.

Some 26 of his alleged associates are also on trial for lesser offences.

The trial, due to last until July, will be held behind closed doors because of the young age of two of the defendants.

The killing prompted thousands of people to take to the streets of Paris and protest against anti-Semitism.

Mr Halimi was kidnapped and brutally tortured for more than three weeks before he was found naked and tied to a tree near a railway track in the southern suburbs of Paris.

He had been stabbed and set alight and died on his way to hospital.

Mr Fofana, 28, leader of a Paris gang known as The Barbarians, is accused of carrying out the attack and faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

He entered the court wearing a white tracksuit and looked at Mr Halimi's relatives before shouting "Allahu akbar".

When the judge asked the defendant for his identity, he replied "African barbarian armed revolt salafist", referring to a strict Sunni Muslim movement.

He the told the court he was born on 13 February, 2006, in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois - the date and place of Mr Halimi's death.

Youssouf Fofana, courtroom sketch
Youssouf Fofana has pleaded not guilty to murder

Mr Fofana is alleged to have ordered gang members to kidnap Jews and hold them until their families paid a ransom.

The victim, who worked in a mobile phone shop, was lured by a female gang member to an empty apartment in the Parisian suburbs where he was attacked and drugged.

The kidnappers tried unsuccessfully to extort a ransom of 450,000 euros ($600,000; £405,000) from his family.

During his ordeal, his family was sent harrowing images and video recordings by his captors.

Jacques Chirac, who was president at the time, promised his parents a full investigation.

Mr Fofana, of Ivorian descent, fled to Ivory Coast after the murder and allegedly made death threats over the telephone Mr Halimi's father and girlfriend.

He was extradited back to France in March 2006.

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