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Charlie Hebdo Trial: French Court Convicts 14 Over 2015 Terror Attacks
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=18968"><span class="small">Kim Willsher, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Wednesday, 16 December 2020 14:00

Willsher writes: "A court in France has convicted 14 people in relation to the January 2015 terror attacks in Paris on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket."

People in Paris gather in support of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015. (photo: Olivier Ortelpa)
People in Paris gather in support of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015. (photo: Olivier Ortelpa)

Charlie Hebdo Trial: French Court Convicts 14 Over 2015 Terror Attacks

By Kim Willsher, Guardian UK

16 December 20

Defendants found guilty on range of charges from membership of criminal network to complicity in attacks

court in France has convicted 14 people in relation to the January 2015 terror attacks in Paris on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.

A total of 17 people were murdered across three days in a series of attacks that horrified the nation. All three assailants were killed in shootouts with the police, leaving only accomplices to face trial.

The defendants were found guilty on different charges, ranging from membership of a criminal network to complicity in the attacks. Terrorism-related charges were dropped for several of the defendants who were found guilty of lesser crimes.

Ali Riza Polat, who was described as a “linchpin” in the organisation of the attacks, was found guilty of complicity by helping the gunmen obtain weapons and ammunition.

The verdicts were announced by Régis de Jorna, the president of the special assize court panel of five judges, after a hearing lasting 54 days that put 11 people in the dock and tried three in their absence.

At 11.30am on 7 January 2015, brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi forced their way into the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris’s central 11th arrondissement.

They killed nine newspaper staff, as well as a building maintenance worker and a police officer. As they fled to a getaway vehicle, they stopped to kill a second police officer who was lying injured on the pavement. In a chilling scene captured on video, one of the brothers, hooded and dressed in black, strolled up to Ahmed Merabet and shot him at close range. Then they disappeared.

On Thursday 8 January, while a major manhunt continued for the Kouachi brothers, Amédy Coulibaly, 32, who later expressed his allegiance to Islamic State, shot Clarissa Jean-Philippe, a trainee municipal police officer.

On the following day, shortly after the brothers were discovered holed up in a printing works north of Paris, Coulibaly stormed the Hyper Cacher supermarket, killing four Jewish people and taking other staff and shoppers hostage. All three terrorists were killed in shootouts with police in the hours that followed.

De Jorna said Coulibaly had relied on “a circle of trusted individuals”, among them Polat. Sentencing Polat to 30 years in prison, De Jorna described him as a “longstanding friend” of the supermarket gunman.

Polat had played a “particularly active and transversal” role in that circle and had given Coulibaly “logistical help”, De Jorna said. He added the judges believed Polat knew of Coulibaly’s “ideological” jihadist commitment and therefore what he intended to do.

Hayat Boumeddiene, 32, the former partner of Coulibaly, was one of the three suspects tried in absentia. Boumeddiene was found guilty of financing terrorism and belonging to a criminal terrorist network and also sentenced to 30 years. She is thought to be alive and on the run from an international arrest warrant in Syria, where she joined Isis.

Mohamed, 33, and Mehdi Belhoucine, 29, who also left France after the attacks and are thought to have died fighting with Isis in Syria, were also on trial in their absence. Mohamed Belhoucine was convicted of complicity in the attacks sentenced to life in prison.

Three of the remaining accused were found guilty of “association with terrorist criminals” and given sentences ranging from 13 to 20 years. Seven others were convicted of the lesser offence of “associating with criminals”, ruling out their association with terrorism, and sentenced to between four and 10 years.

The Charlie Hebdo attack took place on the day of its first weekly editorial meeting of the new year. The paper had moved to its second-floor offices in rue Nicolas Appert after its previous premises was gutted in a firebomb attack in 2011 after a decision to publish controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The decision to reprint the caricatures – viewed as a defence of free speech by some and a provocation by others – still has repercussions today, seen most recently in the murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist terrorist in October 2020.

The attacks triggered an outpouring of international support for France as the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag spread online. World leaders gathered in Paris to march alongside the then president, François Hollande. But more horror was to come.

Ten months later, in November 2015, another group of terrorists launched a wave of shootings and suicide bombings in the city, killing 130 people, many of them gunned down at the Bataclan venue while enjoying a concert.

Since September this year, the suspects in the January attacks have been on trial amid extreme security at a new courthouse on the outskirts of Paris. The proceedings were the first to be filmed for “historical record”.

The court heard from 144 witnesses, 14 experts and 200 interested parties, mainly friends and relatives of the victims, some of whose testimony reduced many in the packed courtroom to silence and tears.

Day after day, the statements made by those who survived and the loved ones of those who did not, made grim listening. Often those standing to testify stopped and paused, seemingly lost for words: the voices of the living punctuated by the silence of the dead or the agony of the dying.

Recounting the events of 7 January 2015, when he lost colleagues and friends, Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, who now runs Charlie Hebdo, recalled the moment he thought he would die.

“I waited my turn. Often one asks oneself how one will die. Me, I was going to die here, on the ground at Charlie Hebdo, at my newspaper. The shooting continued. I asked myself if I was going to get a bullet in the head, in the lungs, I was counting the seconds because I said every second that passes could be my last,” he told the court.

“Then it finished, not a sound, a total terrible silence.” Around him were bodies. “I didn’t want to see that. A few minutes before they were all there, all living. I made an effort not to look at the scene … I started to feel pain.”

Zarie Sibony, 28, a Hyper Cacher cashier at the time of the attack, gave a chilling account of how Coulibaly launched into an antisemitic diatribe during the four-hour siege of the supermarket, and how he asked her and other hostages if he should “finish off” her colleague Yohan Cohen, 20, who lay in agony on the floor. Annoyed by the young man’s moaning in pain, Coulibaly shot and killed him anyway.

Simon Fieschi, Charlie Hebdo’s webmaster, was the first person shot by the Kouachis. Five years on he is still in almost constant pain. Fieschi spent eight months in hospital and then years in physiotherapy, but said he still has to work at overcoming physical paralysis and debilitating fatigue. “I hear us described as those who escaped,” he told the court. “I don’t feel like that. To my knowledge, none of those who was there that day escaped what happened.”

Merabet’s three sisters told how his killing had shattered their family and their lives, and there was silence as his partner, Morgane, addressed the accused. “I’ve lost everything. My life as a woman, my hopes, but I stand here facing you. I am standing and you will not have my hatred or my forgiveness,” she said. your social media marketing partner