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Ilan Halimi, Murdered French Jew, Trial Begins With 27 Suspects

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PARIS — The presumed leader of a group of 27 young people charged with participating in the torture and killing of a young French Jew took his seat in juvenile court Wednesday with the defiant declaration, "Allah will be victorious."

The 23-year-old victim, Ilan Halimi, was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks in the Essonne region south of Paris on Feb. 13, 2006. He died on the way to the hospital after being held captive for more than three weeks.

Youssouf Fofana, 28-year-old presumed leader of a group of 10 young women and 17 young men, stands accused of a crime that shocked the nation. He is charged with premeditated murder, demanding ransom, and acts of torture and barbarism, and faces a possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

He smiled as he took his seat in the Paris court and said, "Allah will be victorious."

Asked his last name, he said, "African barbarian army revolt Salafist." Asked his birth date, he replied, "February 13, 2006" _ the day Halimi was killed.

After the opening, the judge ordered the trial be held behind closed doors, with the public and media excluded, as some of the accused were minors at the time of the crime.

Tensions erupted during a break in the trial. A group of young people from a Jewish group chanting "Justice for Ilan" confronted one of the suspects, prompting a scuffle. Insults were hurled at Fofana's mother.

With the exception of Fofana, the accused are charged with a variety of crimes, including entrapment, kidnapping by an organized group, sequestration by an organized group that resulted in death, or failing to assist a person in peril.

Fofana and his accomplices tried to kidnap other people, including some of Jewish faith, with the intent to demand ransom before seizing Halimi, the original charges said.

Halimi's mother, Ruth, said in a French television interview aired this week that she believed the proceedings should be open to the public.

She appeared in court, and sat rocking back and forth as if in prayer.

The family's lawyers say Halimi was targeted because he was Jewish. Critics say police initially ignored evidence of anti-Semitic motives in the killing, which caught the attention of senior government officials and prompted fear of a resurgent anti-Semitism in France.

Halimi's body was reburied in a Jerusalem cemetery in 2007.

Halimi's family distanced itself from the courtroom scuffle. "The Halimi family is not responsible for these incidents, is not responsible for these tensions. It is the crime that created it," said lawyer Caroline Toby.

Fofana's lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, said her client was "mistreated by a political and religious marketing campaign."

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Associated Press writer Verena von Derschau contributed to this report.

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