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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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POLICE

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.

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