French Court Jails 13 Accomplices Over Charlie Hebdo Attack
A Paris court on Wednesday handed jail terms ranging from four years to life to 13 accomplices convicted of helping Islamist gunmen who massacred cartoonists at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and customers at a Jewish supermarket in early 2015.
Ali Riza Polat, accused by prosecutors of being a right-hand man of one of the attackers, was convicted of complicity in terror crimes by the court 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.
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, which had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
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.
Over three months long, the trial was repeatedly held up due to the Covid-19 pandemic but has again highlighted the horror of the attacks, during a period when France has faced new killings blamed on Islamist radicals.
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.
Riss acknowledged in his editorial that there had been “great difficulty” in establishing the criminal responsibility of the accused in the hearings, while adding the trial was “first and foremost that of this political terror which one calls Islamism”.
– ‘Deathly silence’ –
The Kouachi brothers claimed they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda, while Coulibaly had sworn loyalty to the Islamic State group.
Columnist Sigolene Vinson, who survived the Charlie Hebdo massacre, told the court of 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.
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 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.