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French Court Convicts Man in the Murder of a Holocaust Survivor

PARIS — A French court on Tuesday found a man guilty of murder in the killing of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor in 2018, a crime that shocked France and deeply shook its Jewish community, sentencing him to life imprisonment.

The man, Yacine Mihoub, 32, was convicted along with a second defendant, Alex Carrimbacus, 25, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for robbery, in what judges called hate crimes related to the fact that the victim was Jewish.

Mireille Knoll’s partly burned body was found in her Paris apartment in March 2018 after she had been robbed and stabbed 11 times and attackers had set fire to her home.

The murder of Ms. Knoll came just a year after another hate crime, in which a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, died after being beaten and thrown from her window, and a few years after a string of deadly Islamist attacks targeting Jews. Those acts of violence had revived fears that antisemitism was on the rise in France.

Those concerns have taken on a particular resonance with identity issues emerging as a key battleground in campaigning for the presidential election in April.

There were high hopes that the trial, which opened two weeks ago, would help establish full responsibility for the crime and a detailed course of events. During the police investigation, each defendant blamed the other for the killing and gave several conflicting statements, sometimes recanting them.

Daniel Knoll, Ms. Knoll’s son, told the court, “We want to know who did what.”

He added: “If, at the end of this trial, we still don’t know the truth, we will be gone one day and something will be missing.”

But even though judges designated Mr. Mihoub as the culprit, those hopes for clarity were dashed by repeated inconsistent declarations to the court by both defendants, making it impossible to establish probative facts about the killing.

Mr. Carrimbacus, a homeless man, acknowledged that he had robbed Ms. Knoll in her apartment, but he said that it was Mr. Mihoub who had carried the victim, who had Parkinson’s disease, into her room and stabbed her there.

“I’m a thief but not a killer,” Mr. Carrimbacus told the court.

By contrast, Mr. Mihoub, who, as the son of Ms. Knoll’s neighbors, knew the victim well, said he had set the apartment on fire but that it was Mr. Carrimbacus who stabbed her to death.

The jury was out for 10 hours to decide what sentences to give the defendants — a testament to the complexity of the case.

Part of the trial also focused on whether the murder had been motivated by antisemitism, as the crime was characterized by prosecutors and authorities. As a child, Ms. Knoll narrowly escaped a 1942 roundup of more than 13,000 Jewish people in France, most of whom perished in death camps. Ms. Knoll was able to escape the roundup at the last minute with her mother, who had a Brazilian passport, according to Meyer Habib, a member of Parliament who has spoken with one of Ms. Knoll’s sons.

Judges said that it was her Jewish identity that had led to her murder more than seven decades later.

Mr. Carrimbacus and a former cellmate of Mr. Mihoub said at the trial that Mr. Mihoub had made antisemitic statements in the past, referring to the supposed wealth of Jews or casting doubt on the Holocaust.

Mr. Carrimbacus also said that Mr. Mihoub shouted “God is great” in Arabic during the killing. Mr. Mihoub denied that claim.

The public prosecutor, who had requested a life sentence for Mr. Mihoub and 18 years in prison for Mr. Carrimbacus, said on Tuesday that because Mr. Mihoub knew Ms. Knoll and since they had fairly similar living conditions, only hatred based on religion could have motivated the murder.

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