Sébastien Selam was a popular disc jockey at a hot Parisian night club called Queen. The young man known as DJ Lam C (a reverse play on his surname) left the apartment he shared with his parents in a modest building in of Paris’ 10th arrondissement near la Place Colonel Fabien, heading to work as usual. In the underground parking lot, a Muslim neighbor slit Selam’s throat twice, according to the Rosenpress interview. His face was completely mutilated with a carving fork. Even his eyes were gouged out.
There has been some coverage in France, as usual superficial and mediocre.
Poller returns to Atlas to bring us the shocking miscarriage/lack of justice in this horrid, horrid case. She brings the same laser like analysis, the same flashlight, the same brilliant reporting to the Selam story as she did to the story of Ilan Halimi.
“I killed my Jew”: will the man who murdered Sébastien Selam ever go on trial?
Paris January 13, 2010 Nidra Poller
The Sébastien Selam murder case will go to France’s highest court after Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie appealed the January 5th verdict, reiterating previous decisions, declared Adel Amastaibou criminally irresponsible on the grounds of insanity. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic with episodes of delirium aggravated by refusal to take prescribed medication and a regular intake of cannabis and alcohol, Amastaibou has been discarded like the arm of the crime. Covered in blood? Yes. Judges, police, and psychiatric experts agree. But no longer operational?
On the night of November 19-20, 2003, Adel Amastaibou killed his 23 year-old Jewish neighbor, Sébastien Selam, a popular DJ known as Lam C. The coroner’s report notes “multiple traumatic cranial-facial and laryngeal lesions with fracture of the face and horns of the mylohyoid bone and thyroid cartilage caused by stab wounds and powerful direct blows (by [the assailant’s] foot).”
The knife handle broke off under the force of the blows. The fork used to gouge the victim’s eyes was twisted. The suspect told police he had no regrets about killing the f___ing Jew bastard. Adel’s mother Zohra Amastaibou testified that she saw her son, who was not in a normal state, looking for something in the kitchen drawer early that evening. She managed to hide the sharpest knives. Apparently he was able to borrow one from a neighbor before luring his victim into the building’s underground parking garage. Despite the shocking brutality of the murder, the clearly documented premeditation, a history of antisemitic aggression, repeated run-ins with the police, several jail terms that were never served, and a sustained activity of drug dealing, Amastaibou was listlessly placed in a mental hospital while the case was languidly investigated. The investigating magistrate auditioned the killer for the first time in June 2004, seven months after the crime. A series of psychiatric experts rubber-stamped the initial diagnosis: not fit to stand trial, not able to discern the meaning of his act, too sick to understand that he should take his medication and avoid drugs and alcohol. But… not unfit to enjoy the occasional weekend out of the hospital and, it is reported, to hang around his old neighborhood. Still not enough freedom for Adel Amastaibou who wrote to his victim’s mother, Juliette Selam, asking her to drop the charges because “I’m fed up here [in the hospital].”
Right after the murder was reported, an absurd formula was thrown together to measure the motivation behind the murder of a young Parisian Jew by a Muslim neighbor he’d known from childhood: 1/3 madness, 1/3 jealousy, 1/3 antisemitism. Journalists, analysts, officials, and Jewish community leaders repeated the list of ingredients with a straight face. The victim’s sister-in-law Laetitia Sarfaty Selam—who has since divorced but stands firmly by the family—wrote soberly but clearly to alert Jewish leaders to the antisemitic nature of the crime but virtually none were willing to openly admit that the wave of attacks triggered in September 2000 had reached a summit, the murder of a Jew because he was Jewish. Two years later when the kidnap-torture-murder of Ilan Halimi broke that taboo, the Selam family had to endure the constant repetition of an imposed falsehood: “This is the first time,” declared this or that public figure, “a Jew has been murdered in France because he was Jewish.”
When Maître Axel Metzker took the Selam case he found nothing but dead-ends, stone-eyed files revealing nothing, dusty decisions, hollow reports, and virtually no hope of reopening the case. Today the shelves of his small office are heavy with files filled to the gill. He unearthed Adel Amastaibou’s criminal record, which had been mistakenly declared empty. A spelling error, he was told, had led to the mistaken blotting out of a past pock marked with minor and major misdemeanors. Twelve days before the murder Adel Amastaibou was taken into custody for driving without a license, under the influence of drugs and endangering the lives and limbs of third parties. He was, says Metzker, out on a drug deal, high on cannabis, and almost ran over a pedestrian. If only he had been detained…
The night before the murder, Metzker continues, Amastaibou was picked up by police for a knife-fight at Châtelet metro station—the rendez-vous of layabouts. If they had known he was supposedly schizophrenic…
In fact, says Metzker, nowhere in the young man’s checkered delinquent career was there any mention in any police report of his severe mental problems. He was considered responsible for his acts, and repeatedly released to continue on the same path. There were instances of violence against family members and several brief hospitalizations, but no constraints.
The first breakthrough in this uphill legal battle came last year when the court agreed to reopen the case. A sort of one-day ersatz trial was held on December 2nd (unfortunately I was in the US and could not attend) with some testimony, some witnesses, and the psychiatric experts who it seemed would have the last word. Early in the glacial morning on the 5th of January the verdict was pronounced in a skimpy courtroom. It takes forever to get through the checkpoint at the Palais de Justice, and another forever before being allowed to enter the courtroom. When the presiding magistrate, Monsieur Desmure, begin to speak—mumble actually—I thought he was chatting with the colleague on his left. Suddenly I realized he was announcing the verdict in a lifeless voice, without looking at the family or counsel. It was a sort of “abandon all hope” that had been photocopied to a blur.
The upshot was that Adel Amastaibou cannot be held criminally responsible. The experts agree. From the first, who examined him in December 2003, to Dr. Zagury who saw him in June 2005, to the panel of three experts recently convoked. “They explained that the uncontrollable violence utterly unconnected to reality, exploded under pressure of the delirious notion, upheld by hallucinations: ‘I had to kill him according to what the voices told me so I could come back to life’ with a morbid determination to ‘eradicate’ Sébastien as a terrifying ‘twin’ who had become his opposite and thereby demonized him.” Quite literary, don’t you think?
This is why Amastaibou slit Sébastien’s throat, gouged his eyes, stomped his head with full force leaving traces like tire marks on his smashed forehead and then went upstairs and boasted to his mother “I’ve killed a Jew, I’ll go to heaven.”
Dr. Zagury explains: “The criminal act of Adel Amastaibou is not an anti-Semitic act it is a delirious act… a delirium that is itself nourished by an ambient anti-Semitic thematic.” The Court observes that this delirium was further nourished by the averred anti-Semitism of the subject’s mother. However, his violence against family members was fed by other themes. Given that the subject’s anti-Semitism is “totally annexed by the pathology that colonizes the totality of the psychic field” and that this force is irresistible, the Court did not consider the crime—for which Amastaibou is, in their words, “irresponsible”—is an anti-Semitic hate crime.
What then does society intend to do with the murderer of Sébastien Selam? Having imbibed a cocktail of non-delirious anti-Semitism--from his mother, his surroundings, the media, the mosque—and transformed it into psychotic anti-Semitism leading to uncontrollable violence aggravated by the intake of large quantities of cannabis—he was high when he killed Sébastien—which intake he is totally unable to control, what does the Court, speaking for society, intend to do with him?
The judge announced on that lugubrious morning that a psychiatric evaluation would determine whether the constraints imposed on the subject—forbidden to contact the plaintiffs, to circulate in the 20th arrondissement, and to carry weapons—would be compatible with the treatment he might need.
Or comedy of errors? The Justice Ministry appeal, which will take this case to France’s highest court, does not question the “penal irresponsibility” of Adel Amastaibou. And of course it is not based on the indignation of a normal citizen who might want to punch the judge in the nose after reading his pretentious conclusion. Think of it. If the psychiatrist says that these weighty constraints—no weapons, no harassment of the victim’s family, no hanging around their neighborhood—is incompatible with the most sophisticated treatment that psychiatric wisdom can provide, well then the young man’s health comes first. Give him his knives and let him play out his next psychotic phase in joyous freedom.
Fatal error. The decision on this thorny question—knives, turf, and the rest—is the sole prerogative of the Court. The psychiatric expert can give his opinion. The Court decides. This is why the Minister of Justice sanctioned the verdict.
Maître Metzker will do his best to transform this modest breakthrough into a tool to pry open the intricate mechanism that hides a murder from the society in which it was committed and hides the connection between that murderer and an ideology that manufactures his like in mass.
Part I of a three-part article