24 Days, 26 Murderers: The Story of Ilan Halimi
24 Days, 26 Murderers: The Story of Ilan Halimi

Algerian born French filmmaker, Alexandre Arcady, has directed a small masterpiece. 24 Days is a gripping and somber police drama. Even though we know the outcome, we are nevertheless at the edge of our seats, fearing what we might see next, knowing what is to come, wanting to reach out to the anguished family, perhaps to comfort them. 

This film fictionalizes a searing, heartbreaking, Jewish and French tragedy. In 2002, the world was shocked when al-Qaeda released their pornographic death video of Daniel Pearl’s be-heading in Pakistan. This eternally haunting image was, incredibly, surpassed by the information, sans image, that in 2006, Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew of Moroccan origin had been kidnapped and tortured for three whole weeks by a mainly Muslim gang, aptly named “The Barbarians.” Youssouf Fofana (“Django,” in the film—commandingly played by Tony Harrisson) led 26 people who were “in” on this almost surreal and dastardly deed; twenty-four additional people knew about what was happening but refused to make a single anonymous call to the police. They did this, ostensibly, for money. 

In a sense, France prepared the ground work for just such an atrocity. It persecuted Captain AlfredDreyfus which ironically led to the creation of the state of Israel. The very assimilated Austrian journalist Theodore Herzl covered Dreyfus’s trial, understood that the Jews were endangered in Europe and urgently needed their homeland. He pioneered a vibrant Zionist movement.

France is also the country that, under De Gaulle, made deals with Arab tyrants for the sake of oil. In return, France allowed the mass immigration of Muslims as cheap labor—Muslims whom they failed to screen or assimilate. Hostile neighborhoods of increasingly radicalized third and fourth generation Muslims lived in parallel worlds.

This is the country and the culture which embraced Yasir Arafat and the PLO; France supported the “Palestinian” enterprise (aka the destruction of Israel) in the hope that this would appease their own Arab Street; they also put Philippe Karsenty on trial, Dreyfus-style, in 2008, for having challenged the biased and viral French media coverage of theMohammed Al-Durah affair.

L’Affaire Al-Durah was the staged, faked murder of a Palestinian twelve-year-old for which the Israelis were blamed and which became the justification for Arafat’s long-planned Al-Aqsa Intifada. Long before the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket massacres by French Muslims in 2015, France's left-wing and pro-Islamist political culture was, in large part, responsible for Ilan Halimi's kidnapping and non-rescue.  

Ilan Halimi’s mother, Ruth, worked as a secretary and lived very modestly. She is brilliantly acted by Zabrou Breitman. Ruth wants to give the kidnappers the money they demand—the equivalent of $550,000 dollars. The French police will not allow that; they do not pay ransoms. A police psychologist directs Ilan’s father, superbly played by Pascal Elbe, in exactly what he is allowed to say in order to help the police find the kidnapper. 

Ruth, a religious Moroccan-French Jewish woman, views this as a case of anti-Semitism. After all, they began targeting young Jewish men; they believed that Jews have lots of money and that they all stick together. Ilan was the first young Jew who took the bait. He agreed to meet with a seductive young Iranian woman, Sorour Arbabzadeh, who was the “lure.”

She invites Ilan to her home—but before they can enter, Ilan is kidnapped, chloroformed, duct-taped, hand-cuffed, and thrown into the back of a car. He is taken to an apartment where he is taped up, mummy-style, starved, beaten, cursed, burned with cigarette butts, and threatened for three weeks. Halimi is beaten for daring to moan in pain.

Obviously, Fofana sees the Jews as so powerful that he must render his victim utterly powerless. 

Fofana, a black man from the Ivory Coast, is angry, vulgar, and obsessed. He calls members of Ilan’s family almost 700 times in 3 weeks. They also receive three terrifying photos and two sound recordings. Fofana demands money, laughs, curses, threatens, and screams constantly. The police actually locate him at a cybercafe but instead of quietly sending in undercover officers—the police arrive with cars blazing and blaring and in uniform; Fofana manages to elude them. The police failed to arrest Fofana four times due to a series of blunders and unforgivable failures. 

On February 13, 2006, Fofana takes a dying Ilan to a woodlot, stabs him and then sets him on fire. Heroically, Ilan tries to reach the nearby highway and railroad tracks, but he dies shortly thereafter, en route to the hospital. The autopsy reveals acid, cigarette, and gasoline burns on 80% of his body, multiple hematomas and contusions, two knife wounds, multiple broken bones, and wounds to his genitalia. However, what killed him was a combination of the torture, exhaustion, and the cold.

Fofana fled without being stopped to the Ivory Coast where the police found, arrested, and extradited him back to France. Fofana's lawyer was Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, Jacques Vergès' partner—Vergès is the lawyer who defended Nazi Klaus Barbie. Coutant-Peyre was also the wife of Carlos ("the Jackal"), a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist, whom she had married in jail in a Muslim ceremony. Nevertheless, Fofana was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 22 years. At least nineteen of his accomplices, including the female "lure," were given sentences which ranged from 2 to 18 years. 

The film’s Ruth views her son’s torture-murder, the police’s refusal to allow for a ransom, and their failure to rescue Ilan, as the beginning of a new Holocaust. The French police and politicians strongly reject this view. At film's end, Ruth has Ilan's coffin exhumed so that he may be buried in Israel. Gravely, firmly, she intones: "The people who did this will get out one day. I won't have them spit on his grave."

This film documents an ISIS-like medieval and 21st century atrocity. It challenges the French policies which increased the likelihood that such barbarism could happen in a Western country. The film also serves as a fitting Memorial for Ilan Halimi (z"l) whose terrible fate we must forever mourn and bear. The Jews of France, Europe, Israel, and the Diaspora, as well as all those who have learned from the World War Two Holocaust, must now wrestle with Ruth Halimi's view about anti-Semitism and a potential new Holocaust.  

May Ilan Halimi rest in peace under the wings of the Shekhina—and may we avenge his blood and continue to seek justice on his behalf.

This film opens on April 24th at theaters in America in thirteen cities and will be available on iTunes.