France: verdict in the trial of the attacks against Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher

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After three months of hearings, French justice delivers its verdict on Wednesday against the 14 alleged supporters of the perpetrators of the 2015 jihadist attacks against Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher.

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The Paris Special Assize Court will announce at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. in Quebec) its verdict in this three-day trial of terror that rocked France in January 2015 and left 17 dead: 11 in the attack on the weekly Charlie Hebdo on January 7, four in the one against the Hyper Cacher supermarket on January 9, and two police officers killed on the sidelines of these attacks.

The prosecution asked for sentences “commensurate with the extreme gravity of the facts”, going as far as life imprisonment. The defense urged the court not to look “at all costs” for the culprits to compensate for the absence of the Saïd brothers and Chérif Kouachi and Amédy Coulibaly.

The three terrorists, shot dead by security forces on January 9, 2015, were “nothing” without the defendants, prosecutors supported by calling for sentences ranging from five years in prison to life imprisonment.

The heaviest penalties were required against two alleged “accomplices” of the attacks: Mohamed Belhoucine, tried by default after his departure for Syria, and Ali Riza Polat, presented as the “centerpiece” of the preparatory acts.

Thirty years of imprisonment were required against Amedy Coulibaly’s fleeing companion, Hayat Boumeddiene, and twenty years against Mehdi Belhoucine, who had helped her to leave, both also tried in their absence.

From five to twenty years in prison have been requested against the ten other defendants present, suspected of having provided weapons or equipment “with full knowledge of the jihadist commitment” of the perpetrators of the attacks, according to prosecutors.

“They are the linchpin, the backbone” of the attacks, the prosecution said.

In their last words on Monday, before the court withdrew to deliberate after 54 days of debate, these men, aged 29 to 68, all already convicted of crimes, but never for facts related to terrorism, again affirmed have “nothing to do” with the attacks.

Shadow areas

The defendants’ lawyers have for five days begged the court to “not give in to fear” by looking for “culprits at all costs”, in a context of high terrorist threat in the country.

Three attacks have struck France since the opening of the trial on September 2, including one near the former premises of Charlie Hebdo.

Faced with the shock wave and the trauma of the attacks of January 7, 8 and 9, 2015, the first of a long and bloody series in France, the response must be that of “exemplary justice, not bloodthirsty”, advocated one of the defense lawyers, Zoé Royaux.

“This is an issue that oozes fear and unreason. I believe that when we are too afraid, justice becomes the worst of itself, ”said her colleague Margot Pugliese.

After the powerful testimonies of the survivors of the attacks and the relatives of the 17 victims, the court tried for several weeks to piece together the puzzle of the investigation that brought the 14 defendants to justice, mainly on the basis of telephone records and some traces. DNA.

But the debates did not make it possible to remove all the gray areas, from the arms circuit to the sponsors. In these gray areas, “assumed” by the prosecution which rejected the responsibility for the attitude and the reversals of the accused, the defense rushed in, denouncing a file full of “hypotheses”, but “empty” evidence.

Investigators have identified two “channels” for the supply of weapons found in Amedy Coulibaly’s possession: one “Lille” and the other “Belgian-Ardennes”. But nothing has been established concerning the weapons of war used by the Kouachi brothers. And how the arsenal passed and then landed in the hands of terrorists remains unclear.

Some 200 people became civil parties in the trial, the first in terrorism matters to be fully filmed for the historical archives of French justice.

Originally scheduled to end on November 10, the trial was suspended more than a month after the main defendant, Ali Riza Polat, tested positive for Covid-19 and then suffered medical complications.

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