Is Islam really against free speech? And does France really suffer from ‘Islamist separatism’, as Macron has charged?
A Paris court has handed jail terms ranging from four years to life to more than a dozen people convicted of helping gunmen who massacred cartoonists at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and customers at a Jewish supermarket in January 2015.
Lawyers for the victims and activists hailed Wednesday’s verdict that they said was a victory for justice and freedom of speech after a sometimes traumatic three-month trial, repeatedly delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, that had revived the horror of the killings.
Among the 14 was Hayat Boumeddiene, former partner of Amedy Coulibaly who killed a policewoman and then four people in a Jewish supermarket.
One of three suspects to be tried in absentia, Boumeddiene was found guilty of financing “terrorism” and belonging to a criminal “terrorist” network. She is thought to be alive and on the run from an international arrest warrant in Syria, where she joined ISIL (ISIS).
Coulibaly was himself an associate of the gunmen behind the deadly attack at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
The accomplices were found guilty on different charges, ranging from membership of a criminal network to complicity in the attacks. Terrorism-related charges were dropped for several of the defendants who were found guilty of lesser crimes.
The trial has reopened one of modern France’s darkest episodes, with the attacks marking the onset of a wave of violence that has killed scores more since.
The three days of attacks in Paris began on January 7, 2015, with the killing of 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which had published derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
The assault at the weekly satirical magazine was followed by the shooting of a French policewoman on January 8, and an attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, in the south of Paris, a day later.
The three attackers had links with al-Qaeda and ISIL and were shot dead by police in separate standoffs.
Christophe Deloire, the head of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said he welcomed the verdict.
“It is proof that violent extremists don’t have the last word. Thanks to justice, it is freedom that has the last word,” he wrote on Twitter.
On the cover of its new issue to mark the verdicts, Charlie Hebdo in typically provocative style published a picture of God being led away in a police van with the title “God put in his place”.
“The cycle of violence, which had began in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, will finally be closed,” its editor-in-chief Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who was badly injured in the attacks, wrote in an editorial.
“At least from the perspective of criminal law, because from a human one, the consequences will never be erased, as the testimony of the victims at the trial showed,” Riss added.