Two in court in Paris over killing of 85-year-old Jewish woman

Suspects charged with antisemitic murder of Mireille Knoll at her home in 2018

Two men have appeared in court in Paris charged with the antisemitic murder of 85-year-old Mireille Knoll, who in 1942 escaped from France’s most notorious second world war roundup of Jews.

Yacine Mihoub, 31, and Alex Carrimbacus, 25, who met in prison while serving sentences for robbery, violence and sexual assault, are accused of stabbing Knoll to death and setting fire to her apartment.

They could face life imprisonment if convicted of what court documents described as the culpable homicide of someone “they knew to be vulnerable owing to her physical condition, and which in addition was carried out because of her Jewish faith.”

Knoll, who lived alone and had Parkinson’s disease, was killed in March 2018, a year after the killing of another Jewish woman in Paris, Sarah Halimi, 65, who was thrown out of the window of her home. The attack on Knoll raised further questions about France’s failure to tackle antisemitism.

Both suspects blamed the other for Knoll’s death and have repeatedly changed their stories. “It will take a miracle for the truth to come out of their mouths,” said Gilles-William Goldnadel, the lawyer for the victim’s son, before the start of the trial.

Goldnadel said the evidence against the pair was overwhelming, describing the killing as “heinous antisemitism”. Knoll’s son Daniel told journalists outside the courtroom that the men were “monsters” and that relatives expected “a very severe sentence”.

He told RMC radio he was not sure if he would be able to turn the page even after the verdict. “I hope afterwards I will feel liberated. But I don’t know,” he said. “We wait to know the truth, but I’m not sure we are actually going to get it.”

Knoll fled occupied Paris for Portugal with her mother at the age of nine, narrowly escaping the Vél d’Hiv roundup of Jewish families carried out by French police on behalf of the Nazi authorities.

About 13,000 people, including more than 4,000 children, were herded into the velodrome in Paris’s 15th arrondissement before being moved to internment camps including Drancy, in the north-east of the capital, in 1942. They were then deported to Auschwitz, from where fewer than 100 returned.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, attended Knoll’s funeral in 2018 and said at the time that her killers had “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish … and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history”.

Firefighters found Knoll’s partly burned body in her homecare bed in her council flat in eastern Paris. She had been stabbed 11 times, mainly in the throat, an autopsy established.

Carrimbacus, who has no fixed address and a history of mental health problems, told investigators after his arrest that Mihoub, the son of one of Knoll’s neighbours who had known the victim since childhood, had called him about a “money scheme”.

According to the police report read out in court, Carrimbacus claimed Mihoub slit Knoll’s throat while crying “Allahu Akbar” after a violent argument in which he accused her of having called the police about his behaviour some years previously.

Mihoub said Carrimbacus had immediately sought to rob Knoll, asking if she was “rolling in it”. Magistrates decided to treat the killing as an antisemitic hate crime after Carrimbacus said Mihoub had “talked about Jews’ money, their wealth”.

The investigation also found that Mihoub had an “ambivalent” attitude towards Islamic extremism, prosecutors said. But Mihoub’s lawyer, Charles Consigny, said the motive of antisemitism “only exists because Carrimbacus invented a motive … and the prosecutors weren’t brave enough to drop it in the face of public pressure”.

The killing was the latest in a series of attacks that have heightened concern about how rising Islamic extremism is fuelling antisemitism. In 2012 an Islamist attacker shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse. Three years later a gunman killed four people at a kosher supermarket in Paris, days after 11 people died in a massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. And in 2017 Halimi was killed by a neighbour shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

France’s highest court ruled in April that Halimi’s killer, Kobili Traoré, was not fit to stand trial because he had had a psychotic episode caused by cannabis use, prompting Macron to demand a change in the law to ensure people who commit violent crimes while under the influence of drugs could be held criminally responsible.

• This article was amended on 26 October 2021. The velodrome where Jewish families were taken in the “Vél d’Hiv roundup” in 1942 was in the 15th arrondissement of central Paris not, as an earlier version said, in Drancy, which was the location of a separate internment camp in the north-east of the city.


Jon Henley in Paris

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