The trial over the 2018 murder of a Holocaust survivor began yesterday in Paris’ Court of Assizes.
Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, fled Paris in 1942 at nine years old with her mother, escaping to Portugal. They narrowly avoided the Vélodrome d’Hiver, or “Vél d’Hiv”, the largest roundup of French Jews during the Holocaust where over 13,000 men, women, and children were arrested with the majority being deported to Auschwitz. Less than 100 people returned.
On 23rd March, 2018, Ms Knoll was killed after being stabbed eleven times in her Paris apartment. Her body was found partially burned after those responsible for her murder then attempted to set her apartment on fire. The murder was deemed an antisemitic incident with President Emanuel Macron stating that her killer “assassinated an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish.”
The two accused of her murder are 32-year-old Yacine Mihoub and 25-year-old Alex Carrimbacus. It has been reported that Ms Knoll lived in the same building as Mr Mihoub and his family and knew the defendant since he was a child. Mr Mihoub, who reportedly made unannounced visits regularly to Ms Knoll, was said to have arrived with Mr Carrimbacus at Ms Knoll’s apartment where the two accused began drinking her port wine. It was during this visit that Ms Knoll was stabbed eleven times. The pair, who reportedly met in prison, have contrasting accounts of what occurred, though neither deny that they were both present at the scene of the murder.
Mr Carrimbacus told investigators that Mr Mihoub approached him about a “money scheme” and “talked about Jews’ money” and “their wealth”, prompting magistrates to treat the killing as an antisemitic hate crime. Mr Carrimbacus alleges that Mr Mihoub angrily accused Ms Knoll of providing information to the police which resulted in his last prison sentence before slitting her throat and yelling “Allahu Akhbar,” the Islamic cry for “God is great.” However, Mr Mihoub claims that it was Mr Carrimbacus who killed Ms Knoll before robbing the apartment. Both men claim that the other started the fire after the killing. Investigators told media outlets on Tuesday that the men had a propensity “to lie” and “to manipulate”, rendering neither account particularly credible.
In November 2020, an appeal made by the accused to the Paris Court of Appeal to drop the charge of antisemitism was rejected after the court believed that Mr Carrimbacus’s claim that he overheard Mr Mihoub lecturing Ms Knoll about “the financial means of the Jews, their good situation,” with Ms Knoll answering that “not all Jews have a good situation,” to be “plausible”. Court documents described the incident 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.”
The court also acknowledged Mr Mihoub’s “ambivalence vis-à-vis Islamist terrorism which notably advocates antisemitism.” Following the murder, a police investigation found that Mr Mihoub regularly visited websites featuring content that promoted Islamism and antisemitism, and was already known to authorities for praising Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the brothers behind the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting.
Mr Mihoub’s mother, Zoulikha Khellaf, is also on trial after she was charged with cleaning the knife used to murder Ms Knoll.
Mr Carrimbacus’ lawyer, Karim Laouafi, argued that the charge of antisemitism should only be brought against Mr Mihoub, stating that “these elements are not present in Alex Carrimbacus. If the crime is antisemitic, that cannot be blamed on him.”
Charles Consigny, Mr Mihoub’s defence, responded by asserting that Mr Carrimbacus’ accusations of antisemitism against Mr Mihoub were lies. “It only exists because Carrimbacus invented a motive, and the prosecutors weren’t brave enough to drop it in the face of public pressure,” Mr Consigny said yesterday.
The Knoll family’s lawyer, Gilles-William Goldnadel, said yesterday that both of the accused should face “severe punishment for this horrible crime.” Speaking to reports as he entered the court, Mr Goldnadel said “We will need a miracle for the truth to come out of their mouths,” adding that Ms Knoll’s murder was a clear case of “antisemitism motivated by financial gain.”
In an interview, Ms Knoll’s son Alain said “I haven’t cried since my mother died, and I hope that when the murderers have been convicted, I will finally be able to cry…I want to know who stabbed my mother’s body eleven times. You must really hate in order to be able to do that, and this hatred can only be antisemitism.”
His brother Daniel added: “These people are not part of the community of humankind. They are monsters, they must be considered as monsters. Can we talk to monsters? I think it’s going to be next to impossible to talk to them.”
The killing of Ms Knoll took place only one year after the murder of Sarah Halimi, also occuring in Paris. Ms Halimi was a 65-year-old Jewish woman who was murdered by her 27-year-old Muslim neighbour, Kobili Traoré, after he tortured her before pushing her out of a window to her death. The Jewish community in France is said to be carefully watching the trial of Ms Knoll’s murder after France’s Court of Cassation ruled earlier this year that Sarah Halimi’s killer could not be held to stand trial due to being high on cannabis whilst committing the murder.
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