The brutal murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by a fellow pupil who raped another schoolgirl in a different school a year earlier has shocked France and led to calls for new measures to deal with youth delinquents.

"/> The brutal murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by a fellow pupil who raped another schoolgirl in a different school a year earlier has shocked France and led to calls for new measures to deal with youth delinquents.

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CRIME

Pupil murder sparks calls for tougher youth justice

The brutal murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by a fellow pupil who raped another schoolgirl in a different school a year earlier has shocked France and led to calls for new measures to deal with youth delinquents.

Pupil murder sparks calls for tougher youth justice
Justice Minister Michel Mercier by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet

The body of Agnès Morin was discovered on Friday, two days after she disappeared while in a forest close to the fee-paying Cévenol school where she was a pupil.

It has been revealed that the 17-year-old boy who confessed to raping and murdering her also attacked another girl in similar circumstances a year earlier. 

The victim of the earlier attack survived and the boy was imprisoned for four months. On his release he was transferred to the Cévenol school but authorities there claim they were not aware of the exact nature of his crime. 

Prime minister François Fillon called an emergency meeting of his justice, interior and health ministers on Monday afternoon to discuss “possible failings in the chain of justice.”

Justice minister Michel Mercier told reporters after the meeting that there needed to be better structures to “evaluate the danger” in serious cases. 

Interior minister Claude Guéant appeared on the TF1 nightly news programme to announce that steps to reform youth justice would be a “priority” after the elections planned for June 2012.

He rejected the call of far-right leader Marine Le Pen for a referendum on reintroducing the death penalty to France following the murder.

“France is proud to have abolished the death penalty and it’s sickening to put that back into play. I hope that the French will not listen to these populist demands,” he said.

Le Pen had earlier told radio station Europe 1 that “those who kill our children should risk their own skin.”

She promised that, if elected in next year’s presidential elections, she would hold “a referendum to ask the French people to make the choice between the death penalty and life imprisonment.”

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CRIME

French court jails for life sole surviving Paris 2015 attacker

The sole surviving member of an Islamic State terror cell that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 was handed a whole-life sentence on Wednesday at the end of a trial that aimed to draw a line under the worst peace-time atrocity in modern French history.

French court jails for life sole surviving Paris 2015 attacker

Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin, was captured alive by police four months after the bloodbath at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations.

His sentence, the toughest possible, was read out by the head of five-judge panel overseeing the trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the assault on the capital.

Wearing a khaki-coloured polo shirt, he stood motionless and showed no emotion as he was declared guilty and sentenced by chief judge Louis Peries during an hour-long speech.

“The sentences are quite heavy,” one tearful survivor, Sophie, told AFP as she left the court in central Paris. “I feel a lot of relief. Ten months of hearings — it’s helped us to rebuild.”

The trial has been the biggest in modern French history, the culmination of a six-year international investigation whose findings run to more than a million pages.

READ MORE: The difficult and emotional search for truth at France’s biggest terrorism trial

The other 19 suspects, accused of either plotting or offering logistical support, were also found guilty, with their sentences ranging from two years to life in prison.

All of the attackers except for Abdeslam blew themselves up or were killed by police during or after the assault.

Hundreds of victims and witnesses packed out the benches of the specially constructed courtroom as the sentences were read out.

“My first reaction is that we have the feeling of turning a page after the verdicts,” Gerard Chemla, a lawyer representing victims at the trial, told reporters.

Change of heart?

Abdeslam had begun his appearances last September by defiantly declaring himself as an “Islamic State fighter” but finished tearfully apologising to victims and asking for leniency.

In his final statement, he urged the judges not to give him a full-life term, seeking to emphasise that he had not killed anyone himself.

“I made mistakes, it’s true. But I’m not a murderer, I’m not a killer,” he said.

His lawyers had also argued against the whole-life sentence, which prosecutors had demanded.

It offers only a small chance of parole after 30 years and has been pronounced only four times previously since being created in 1994.

Abdeslam, a one-time pot-smoking lover of parties, discarded his suicide belt on the night of the attack and fled back to his hometown, Brussels, where many of the extremists lived.

He told the court that he had had a change of heart and decided not to kill people.

“I changed my mind out of humanity, not out of fear,” he insisted.

But after hearing that his suicide belt was defective, the judges concluded that this “cast serious doubt” on his apparent “renunciation”.

They ruled he was a “co-author” of the attacks which “constituted a single crime scene.” 

Trauma

A team of 10 jihadists laid siege to the French capital, attacking the national sports stadium, bars, and the Bataclan in an assault immediately claimed from Syria by the IS group.

The attacks shocked France, with the choice of targets and the manner of the violence seemingly designed to inflict maximum fear, just 10 months after a separate assault on the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

In one instance, the court heard a recording of gunmen taunting people trapped in the Bataclan as they fired on them with Kalashnikov machine guns from a balcony above.

The huge loss of life marked the start of a gruesome and violent period in Europe as IS ramped up attacks across the continent.

France, under then president Francois Hollande, declared the country “at war” with the extremists and their self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Hollande, who testified in November, called the trial “exceptional” and “exemplary”, adding in a statement that the accused had been “judged with respect for the law”.

The 10-month process had “enabled us to look for the truth in order to better understand the course of Islamist terrorism”, he said.

Other culprits

In the absence of the rest of the attackers, the men on trial besides Abdeslam were suspected of offering mostly logistical support or plotting other attacks. 

Only 14 out of the 20 appeared in person, with the rest missing, presumed dead.

One of them, Mohamed Abrini, admitted to driving some of the Paris attackers to the capital and explained how he was meant to take part but backed out.

The court handed him a life sentence with 22 years as a minimum term.

Also on trial was Swedish citizen Osama Krayem, who has been identified in a notorious IS video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

He was sentenced to 30 years in jail and ordered to serve two thirds of it behind bars, as was fellow jihadist Sofian Ayari, a Tunisian arrested along with Abdeslam in Brussels in March 2015.

The pair were suspected of planning an attack on Amsterdam airport.

All of the convicted are able to appeal their verdicts and sentences.

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