Verdict expected in French trial on Charlie Hebdo attack

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Paris (AFP)

Judges will deliver their verdict on Wednesday on 14 alleged accomplices of Islamist gunmen who murdered some of France’s most famous cartoonists during the Charlie Hebo weekly in 2015, murders that horrified the nation.

Seventeen people were killed during three days of attacks in January 2015, starting with the massacre of 12 people at the satirical magazine, which had published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

This attack was followed by the murder of a French policewoman and the taking of hostages at the Hyper Cacher market.

The murders, which marked the start of a wave of Islamist attacks across Europe, sparked a global outpouring of solidarity with France under the slogan “Je suis Charlie”.

All three attackers were killed in shootings with police following the attacks.

The people on trial are accused of helping the Kouachi brothers, perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and their accomplice, the hostage taker of the Amedy Coulibaly supermarket.

For more than three months, the trial has been repeatedly delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He again highlighted the horror of the attacks, at a time when France was once again faced with murders blamed on radical Islamists.

– ‘Suspicion and speculation’ –

Counterterrorism prosecutors are calling for prison terms ranging from five years to life imprisonment for the defendants.

Defense attorneys criticized the prosecution’s record as thin on the evidence and cautioned against examples of defendants with “crazy” sentences to make up for the fact that the killers themselves cannot be tried .

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

Polat admitted in court that he had become involved in crimes, including drug trafficking, but denied any knowledge of a terrorist plot.

“I really didn’t do everything you say I did,” he said.

Coulibaly’s girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, is also sentenced to life imprisonment, who fled to Syria shortly after the attacks and was one of three people tried in absentia.

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

Pastor Alwatik is accused of being part of a terrorist plot – 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 guns”.

– ‘Silence of death’ –

The three-month trial rekindled memories of attacks that set a pattern of radicalized young French Muslims inspired or led by jihadist groups to attack their homeland.

The Kouachi brothers claimed they were acting on behalf of Al Qaeda while Coulibaly swore 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 “deadly 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 confrontation with police.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre sparked an intense debate on freedom of expression and the place of Islam in secular France.

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

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

On October 16, a young Chechen refugee beheaded Professor Samuel Paty who had shown some of the caricatures to his students.

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

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has introduced legislation to combat radical Islamist activity in France, a bill that has sparked anger in some Muslim countries.

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