Trio jailed in France over links to 2016 jihadist killing of priest

Three men have been handed jail terms by a court in Paris over the jihadist murder of an 85-year-old priest in northwest France in 2016.

Trio jailed in France over links to 2016 jihadist killing of priest
Father Jacques Hamel was killed in a jihadist attack in 2016. (Photo: Marco Zeppetella / AFP)

Father Jacques Hamel had his throat slit at the foot of the altar on July 26th, 2016, at his small church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a working-class suburb of Rouen, Normandy.

The two 19-year-old assailants, Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, who also seriously wounded a worshipper after bursting in during mass and taking hostages, were shot and killed by police as they tried to leave the church.

They had claimed in a video to be members of the Islamic State, which later called them its “soldiers” retaliating for France’s fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

With the perpetrators dead, the three suspects on trial – Jean-Philippe Jean Louis, Farid Khelil and Yassine Sebaihia – were charged with “association in a terrorist act”.

The Paris court sentenced Sebaihia to eight years in prison, Khelil to 10 years and Jean Louis to 13 years.

Jean Louis, 25, was found to have run a Telegram channel in the area which played a central role in spreading jihadist ideas among youth.

Khelil, 36, was told he had consistently reinforced the determination of Petitjean, his cousin, to carry out an act of terror.

Sebaihia, 27, meanwhile had visited Kermiche two days before the killing and was found to have been aware of the killers’ jihadist intentions.

A fourth defendant, Rachid Kassim, presumed dead in Iraq, was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for “complicity” in the killing – defendants are tried in France even if they are presumed, but not confirmed, to be dead.

They had all been in contact with the assailants, with Jean Louis also travelling with Petitjean to Turkey just weeks before the attack in an attempt to reach Syria.

The court ruled that even if the defendents did not know the details of the plot, they were “perfectly aware that Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean belonged to an association of criminals and were preparing a violent action”.

The trial however was marked by scenes of reconciliation between the accused and relatives of the victim which have been almost unheard of in the legal processes over the spate of jihadist killings in France since 2015.

Khelil had earlier on Wednesday asked for forgiveness from the family, a move that the priest’s sister Roseline Hamel said “had done a lot of good”.

Ahead of the verdict, Roseline Hamel had also reached out to the four sisters of Jean Louis to comfort them and given a photo of her brother to each of the three accused.

Hamel’s murder came as the country was on high alert over a series of jihadist attacks that began with a massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, which have claimed more than 250 lives.

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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.