‘Waiting for justice’ – France remembers Charlie Hebdo terror attacks as suspects go on trial

Fourteen alleged accomplices in the 2015 jihadist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly and a Jewish supermarket go on trial next Wednesday more than half-a-decade after days of bloodshed that still shock France.

'Waiting for justice' - France remembers Charlie Hebdo terror attacks as suspects go on trial
"I am Charlie" became a rallying cry during the protests in 2015 to support the victims and the satirical magazine's freedom of speech. Photo: AFP

The attacks heralded a wave of Islamist violence that has left 258 people dead and raised unsettling questions about modern France's ability to preserve security and harmony for a multicultural society.

Twelve people, including some of France's most celebrated cartoonists, were killed on January 7th, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi went on a gun rampage at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, whose no-taboo style, including hugely controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, had divided the country.

A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, a close acquaintance of Cherif Kouachi who he had met in prison, killed female police officer Clarissa Jean-Philippe, 27, during a routine traffic check in Montrouge, outside Paris.

On January 9th Coulibaly killed four men, all Jews, during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in the east of Paris. He recorded a video saying the attacks were coordinated and claiming them in the name of Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Portraits of the victims of the attacks hang outside the former Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Photo: AFP

Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were themselves killed in the printers where they holed up in Dammartin-en-Goele northeast of Paris.

While the three perpetrators are dead, suspects accused of providing them with various degrees of logistical support will finally face justice.

The trial had been delayed several months due to the coronavirus epidemic.

The court in Paris will sit until November 10th and, in a first for a terror trial, proceedings will be filmed for archival purposes given public interest.

READ ALSO: A timeline of terror in France since Charlie Hebdo attacks

'Helped at all stages'

Of the 14 suspects, three are being tried in absentia: Hayat Boumedienne, the partner of Coulibaly, and the Belhoucine brothers Mohamed and Mehdi.

All three are believed to have travelled to the area of northern Syria and Iraq that at the time was under IS control.

Reports have suggested they are dead but this has never been confirmed and they remain subject to arrest warrants.

The satirical magazine is known for its provocative drawings. Photo: AFP

Facing the most serious charge of complicity in terror and a maximum sentence of life in jail, are Mohamed Belhoucine, the elder of the two brothers, and Ali Riza Polat, 35, a French citizen of Turkish origin who will be the most prominent of the accused in the dock.

Polat, seen as close to Coulibaly, is suspected of having played a central role in preparing the attacks, notably by helping to build up the arsenal used by the three perpetrators.

He is also accused of providing help “at all stages of the preparation”. Just after the attacks, he repeatedly tried to leave France for Syria but has been held since March 2015.

Mohamed Belhoucine is accused of being the ideological mentor of Coulibaly after meeting him in jail, opening up channels of communication for him to IS and writing the oath of allegiance that Coulibaly made to the group.

Most of the other suspects are on trial for association with a terror group, a crime that comes with a jail sentence of up to 20 years.

The slogan “I am Charlie” was known worldwide after the attacks. Photo: AFP

'Waiting for justice'

People who escaped the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher are set to give testimony and the process is set to stir up memories of one of the darkest chapters in modern French history.

“This trial is an important moment for them,” Marie-Laure Barre and Nathalie Senyk, lawyers for victims at Charlie Hebdo, said 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 France's most celebrated cartoonists including its director Stephane Charbonnier, known as “Charb”, 47, Jean Cabut, known as “Cabu”, 76, and Georges Wolinski, 80.

The publication's willingness to cause offence 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 grief with the slogan #JeSuisCharlie going viral.

“This trial matters even though Amedy Coulibaly is dead,” said Patrick Klugman, lawyer for the victims at Hyper Cacher. “Without those defendants in the box, Coulibaly would never have been able to act.”

Safya Akorri, a defence lawyer, said the “rigour” of the French justice system will also be on trial.

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French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.