Charlie Hebdo trial: 14 found guilty of being accomplices in 2015 terror attacks

AFP/Paris, France
Filed on December 16, 2020
The lawyer of Clarissa Jean-Philippe's family, a French policewoman killed on January 8, 2015, Laurent Hatchi (L) talks to the press at the Paris' courthouse on December 16, 2020.


Lawyers for the victims and activists hailed a verdict that they said was a victory for justice and freedom of speech.

A Paris court on Wednesday handed jail terms ranging from four years to life to more than a dozen people convicted of helping extremist gunmen who massacred cartoonists at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and customers at a Jewish supermarket in January 2015.

Lawyers for the victims and activists hailed a verdict that they said was a victory for justice and freedom of speech after a sometimes traumatic three-month trial that had revived the horror of the killings.

The attacks followed the publication by Charlie Hebdo of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which had caused anger across the Muslim world.

During the trial, which was repeatedly delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, France was hit by a number of new killings blamed on extremists.

Ali Riza Polat, accused by prosecutors of being a right-hand man of one of the attackers, was convicted of complicity in terror crimes and given a 30-year sentence.

The court gave the same term in absentia to Hayat Boumeddiene, the partner of one of the attackers. She fled to Syria in the wake of the killings.

A life jail sentence was given to another prime suspect, Mohamed Belhoucine, although he was also tried in absentia and is presumed to be dead in Syria.

A total of 14 suspected accomplices went on trial over the attacks, three of them in absentia, and in all 13 sentences were handed down on Wednesday.

All of those present in court were convicted for their role in providing support for the killings.

A 14th accused, Mehdi Belhoucine, the brother of Mohamed and also presumed dead, was not sentenced on Wednesday because the court considered him to have already been convicted at a separate trial in January.

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

All three attackers were killed by French security forces after the attacks.

- 'Freedom has last word' -

Seventeen people were killed over three days of attacks in January 2015, beginning with the massacre of 12 people at the magazine after it had published controversial Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cartoons.

That attack was followed by the murder of a French policewoman and the hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher market in which four Jewish men were killed.

Christophe Deloire, the head of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said he welcomed the verdict.

"It is proof that violent extremists don't have the last word. Thanks to justice, it is freedom that has the last word," he wrote on Twitter.

On the cover of its new issue to mark the verdicts, Charlie Hebdo in typically provocative style published a picture of God being led away in a police van with the title "God put in his place".

"The cycle of violence, which had began in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, will finally be closed," its editor-in-chief Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau, who was badly injured in the attacks, wrote in an editorial.

"At least from the perspective of criminal law, because from a human one, the consequences will never be erased, as the testimony of the victims at the trial showed," Riss added.

- 'They were heard' -

Prosecutors had sought and even more severe sentence of life in jail for Polat but his lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre said he would appeal the verdict.

"We took innocent people to offer vindictiveness," she said. The real culprits were not in the box".

But Patrick Klugman, lawyer for the victims at Hyper Cacher, said: "For most of the victims... I believe that they have feeling of having been heard."

Those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack included some of France's most celebrated cartoonists such as Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, 76, Georges Wolinski, 80, and Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier, 47.

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

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 extremist activity in France, a bill that has stirred anger in some Muslim countries.

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