The attacks heralded a wave of Islamist violence that left 258 people dead and raised troubling questions about the ability of modern France to preserve security and harmony for a multicultural society.
Twelve people, including some of France’s most famous cartoonists, were killed on January 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi embarked on a shootout in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, whose no-holds-barred style, including Extremely controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad had divided the country.
A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, a close acquaintance of Cherif Kouachi whom he had met in prison, killed policewoman Clarissa Jean-Philippe, 27, during a routine road check in Montrouge, outside Paris.
On January 9, Coulibaly killed four men, all of them Jews, during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher supermarket east of Paris. He recorded a video saying the attacks were coordinated and claiming them on behalf of the Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
Coulibaly was killed when the police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were themselves killed in the printers where they locked themselves in Dammartin-en-Goele, north-east of Paris.
While the three perpetrators are dead, suspects accused of providing them with varying degrees of logistical support will finally face justice.
The trial had been delayed for several months due to the coronavirus epidemic. The Paris court will sit until November 10 and, in a first for a terrorism trial, the proceedings will be filmed for archival purposes in the public interest.
– ‘Helped at all stages’ –
Of the 14 suspects, three are tried in absentia: Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s partner, and the brothers Belhoucine Mohamed and Mehdi.
All three are believed to have traveled to the region of northern Syria and Iraq which was then under ISIS control.
Reports suggest they are dead but this has never been confirmed and they remain under arrest warrants.
Facing the most serious charge of complicity in terror and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, are Mohamed Belhoucine, the eldest of the two brothers, and Ali Riza Polat, 35, a French citizen of origin. Turkish who will be the most eminent of the accused on the dock.
Polat, considered to be close to Coulibaly, is suspected of having played a central role in the preparation of the attacks, in particular by contributing to the constitution of the arsenal used by the three authors.
He is also accused of having provided assistance “at all stages of the preparation”. Immediately after the attacks, he made several attempts to leave France for Syria but has been detained since March 2015.
Mohamed Belhoucine is accused of being Coulibaly’s ideological mentor after meeting him in prison, opening up channels of communication to ISIS and writing Coulibaly’s pledge of allegiance to the group.
Most of the remaining suspects are on trial for association with a terrorist group, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
– “The trial counts” –
The people who escaped the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher massacres are about to testify and the process is about to reawaken memories of one of the darkest chapters in modern French history.
“This trial is an important moment for them,” said Marie-Laure Barre and Nathalie Senyk, victims’ lawyers at Charlie Hebdo, in a statement to AFP.
“They are waiting for justice to be done to find out who did what, knowing that those who pulled the trigger are no longer there,” they added.
Among those who died at Charlie Hebdo were some of the most famous cartoonists in France, including its director Stéphane Charbonnier, aka “Charb”, 47, Jean Cabut, dit “Cabu”, 76, and Georges Wolinski, 80. .
The publication’s willingness to offend made it a champion of free speech for many, while others believed it crossed a line too often.
But the massacre united the country in pain with the #JeSuisCharlie slogan going viral.
“This trial counts even though Amedy Coulibaly is dead,” said Patrick Klugman, victims’ lawyer at Hyper Cacher. “Without these defendants in the box, Coulibaly would never have been able to act. ”
Safya Akorri, a defense lawyer, said the “rigor” of French justice will also be judged.