Verdict expected in French trial over 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack

Judges will issue their verdict Wednesday on 14 suspected accomplices of the Islamist gunmen who murdered some of France’s most famous cartoonists at the weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2015, killings that horrified the nation.

Seventeen people were killed over three days of attacks in January 2015, beginning with the massacre of 12 people at the satirical magazine, which had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

That attack was followed by the killing of a French policewoman and the hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher market.

The killings, which signalled the start of a wave of Islamist attacks around Europe, triggered a global outpouring of solidarity with France under the “I am Charlie” slogan.

All three assailants were killed in shootouts with the police in the wake of the attacks.

Those on trial are accused of assisting the Kouachi brothers, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and their accomplice, the supermarket hostage-taker Amedy Coulibaly.

Over three months long, the trial was repeatedly held up due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has again highlighted the horror of the attacks, during a period when France has again faced killings blamed on Islamist radicals.

‘Suspicion and speculation’

Anti-terrorism prosecutors are seeking jail terms ranging from five year to life imprisonment for the accused.

Defence lawyers have slammed the prosecution’s case as thin on evidence and warned against making examples of the accused with “crazy” sentences to compensate for the fact that the killers themselves cannot be tried.

Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Ali Riza Polat, a 35-year-old French-Turkish friend of Coulibaly’s, whom they presented as his “right-hand man”.

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Polat admitted to the court he had dabbled in crime, including drug trafficking, but denied any knowledge of a terrorist plot.

“I really did not do all the things you say I did,” he said.

Also facing a life sentence is Coulibaly’s girlfriend Hayat Boumeddiene, who fled to Syria shortly after the attacks and was one of three tried in absentia.

The DNA of one of the suspects, Nezar Mickael Pastor Alwatik, was found on a pistol and a revolver used by Coulibaly when he took shoppers hostage at the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Pastor Alwatik is charged with being part of a terrorist conspiracy — charges deemed excessive by his lawyer, Delphine Malapert.

“You cannot convict someone on the basis of vagueness, suspicion and speculation,” she told the court, arguing that all he was guilty of was “touching weapons”.

‘Deathly silence’

The three-month trial revived memories of attacks that established a pattern of radicalised French Muslim youths being inspired or directed by jihadist groups to attack their homeland.

The Kouachi brothers claimed they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda while Coulibaly had sworn loyalty to the Islamic State group.

During the trial, survivors of the attacks recounted scenes of horror.

Columnist Sigolene Vinson, who survived the Charlie Hebdo massacre, described the “deathly silence” in the office as her colleagues lay dead all around her.

Former Hyper Cacher cashier Zarie Sibony described stepping over bodies in the aisles of the supermarket during Coulibaly’s four-hour standoff with police.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo sparked intense debate about free speech and the place of Islam in secular France.

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To mark the start of the trial on September 2, Charlie Hebdo defiantly republished the cartoons of the prophet that had angered Muslims.

Three weeks later, a Pakistani man wounded two people outside the magazine’s former offices, hacking at them with a cleaver.

On October 16, a young Chechen refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty who had showed some of the caricatures to his pupils.

And on October 29, three people were killed when a young Tunisian recently arrived in Europe went on a stabbing spree in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has introduced legislation to tackle radical Islamist activity in France, a bill that has stirred anger in some Muslim countries.


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