Suleiman al-Halabi is an Azhari student of Syrian origin, who is credited with assassinating General Kleber, the leader of the French campaign against Egypt during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. His skull has been preserved in a Paris museum for more than two centuries, despite popular Arab demands for its return and what remains of his remains for burial in his hometown.
Birth and upbringing
Suleiman bin Muhammad Amin, nicknamed "Al-Halabi", was born in 1777 in the village of Kokan in Aleppo, the far north of Syria.
He comes from a Muslim father who belongs to a Kurdish family mentioned by many historians as Aws Qubar, while he was mentioned in the Aleppo Encyclopedia by Khair al-Din al-Asadi, as Suleiman Wanas, born in the Bayada neighborhood near Bab al-Hadid in Aleppo, and was nicknamed Aleppo in reference to his origin.
His father traded in butter and olive oil, so he took a lot of wandering, and lived for three years in Mecca and Medina, and three more in Cairo.
He was closely associated with Egypt, and made two pilgrimages on the journey of al-Mahmal, a procession that left Egypt each year carrying the covering of the Kaaba, and visited Jerusalem and Nablus.
All that is known about Suleiman is that he was a thin young man, afraid of the clothes of the military and avoided them, according to the testimony of historians, and it was said that he was quiet and taciturn, and did not mix with people.
Al-Halabi received his primary education in the schools of Aleppo, and after reaching the age of twenty, his father sent him to Mecca and Medina, and then to Egypt in 1797 to study Islamic law, where he joined Al-Azhar University, and began to pay attention to Arabic calligraphy.
He was a poor student living in the dormitory reserved for students from the Levant, and he was a disciple of Sheikh Ahmed al-Sharqawi, who was the leader of the "First Cairo Uprising" against the French campaign in October 1798.
After 3 years at Al-Azhar, he returned to Aleppo and worked as a writer for his Al-Azhar composition.
Second flight to Cairo
After the return of the Azhari student to his village in 1800, he traveled after a short period to Palestine, and during that trip he crossed his way with two officers of the Ottoman intelligence, who offered him the assassination of "Jean-Baptiste Kleber", the leader of the French campaign on Egypt and the Levant, and he agreed to perform the task immediately.
He traveled to Cairo with a commercial convoy, on a journey that took 6 days, at the age of 23 at the time, where he bought a dagger from the Egyptian city of Giza, said from a store in Gaza, and began planning the assassination.
Al-Halabi took his place in Al-Azhar Mosque, and revealed 4 Al-Azhar students from Gaza with what he determined, and he spent – according to French investigation records – 31 days tracking Clipper, until he was able to reach him in the corridors of the garden of the French General Command House in Azbakeya.
Before sunset on Saturday, June 14, 1800, occurred "rare wonderful" as the Egyptian historian Abdul Rahman Al-Jabarti calls it, as Kleber was walking with the architect Constantine Protin, in the garden of the palace of Muhammad Bey Alfi, appeared in front of them Al-Halabi disguised as a suspicious beggar, shabby clothes wearing a green turban and a poor caftan, crying out for Kleber, who extended his hand to him, pounced on him carrying a dagger and stabbed him in the heart.
When Brutan attacked him to drive him away, he stabbed him to the ground, then returned to Clipper and stabbed him three more times in a row, killing him, but the report of René Nicolas Devrich Degenette, chief physician and surgeon of the French campaign, said that the first stab was the death of the general, who was 47 years old.
Al-Halabi fled after burying the dagger in the garden, and within an hour two French soldiers managed to arrest him, after they found him hiding in a nearby orchard.
Al-Halabi was brought to a public military trial, the nine judges of which were French, by decision of General Jacques-François de Monneau, who took command of the French army after the murder of Kleber.
The military committee printed the proceedings of the investigation and trial proceedings in French, Arabic and Turkish on 500 copies that were hung in public places and published in a book.
Al-Jabarti, who was a contemporary of the French campaign, had proved the facts of the trial, summarizing it to more than 30 pages in his book "The Wonders of Antiquities in the Translations of News", which he began writing in 1806, while he had ignored them in his first book, "The Appearance of Sanctification".
It included the minutes of al-Halabi's interrogation, in which he stated that he was asked about his name, age, home, and workmanship, how long he had been in Egypt, about his sect, who sent him to Egypt, about his acquaintances there, and why he followed the military commander.
The minutes also say that the confessions were extracted from the accused once by confrontation and another by torture, and they brought those who told about them, namely: Abdullah and Ahmed Al-Ghazi, Mr. Muhammad Al-Wali, Mustafa Effendi, while Abdul Qadir Al-Ghazi fled before he was arrested.
In the end, Al-Halabi's comrades were sentenced to death before him after the court convicted them of covering up the operation before it took place, after which the French authorities executed him with a pile and left his body on top of him until the birds ate his corpses.
Execution and burning
On the morning of Wednesday, June 17, 1800 (and in other references June 18) a series of artillery rounds announced the beginning of the funeral ceremony for Kleber's funeral.
The execution of the punishment on Al-Halabi began by burning his right hand, then the execution of crucifixion on the pile in Tel Al-Aqrab, and next to him hung on Nababit (long sticks) the heads of 3 of his companions Al-Azhar, after their bodies were burned to charring, as tells Al-Zarkali.
According to General Mino's report, Al-Halabi "lived 4 hours on the pile and did not groan amid the severe pains that a person trembles just to think about" before one of the soldiers took pity on him and watered him with some water and then died, as the French historian Henri Lawrence mentions in his study "The French Campaign on Egypt and Syria."
The French doctor Dominique Jean Lary, who witnessed the execution, says in a book in 1803 that the young Aleppo man did not give up his tall stand until his death, and his body remained suspended for 3 days in the summer air.
The verdict was later reviewed in France by a military court, which resulted in strong criticism of the brutal manner in which the death sentence was carried out.
Al-Halabi was executed by crucifixion in June 1800 (Getty Images)
From the Scorpions Hill to the Paris Museums
As the French campaign left Egypt, the French took Kleber's remains, dagger and skull to France, then displayed his remains in the Natural History Museum in the Paris Botanical Gardens, and kept his skull in the autopsy room of the Faculty of Medicine.
When the Invalides complex was founded, where Bonaparte's mausoleum was located, Clipper's skull was placed and underneath it was written "The Hero's Skull" and under Al-Halabi's skull was placed the dagger with which the stabbing was carried out, and next to it was written "The Criminal's Skull".
Then the skull ended up in the Museum of Man, which occupies the bulk of the Bassie wing in the Château de Chaillot located near the Eiffel Tower, with a sign underneath which reads "Assassin's head: name Suleiman al-Halabi" and next to it is Descartes' skull appended with "genius".
Campaign to restore the skull
To date, calls are launched from Syria to recover Al-Halabi's skull and remains, to be buried in his hometown, and the Egyptian engineer Ihsan Muharram has launched a local and international campaign to recover his remains from the museum, which he called "Museum of Shame."
In 2006, the "People's National Committee for the Recovery of the Remains and Skull of the Hero Suleiman al-Halabi" was established and a signature campaign was launched, starting in Damascus, then moving to Aleppo, with the celebration of Aleppo as the capital of Islamic culture, and then to other governorates, before concluding with a book signing ceremony on the biography of Al-Halabi.
In 1965, the Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag wrote a play called "Suleiman Al-Halabi". Al-Halabi was also named after a neighborhood of Aleppo, his hometown, and one of the main streets in Cairo's Manial neighborhood.
Director Mahfouz Abdel Rahman presented to Al-Araby TV his first historical series under the name "Suleiman Al-Halabi".