Trial begins over Charlie Hebdo terrorist killings that shook France

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Hooded gunmen Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said Kouachi aiming Kalashnikov rifles toward police officer Ahmed Merabet, before shooting him dead after leaving the office of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015. (FILE/AFP/Courtesy of Jordi Mir)
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Hooded gunmen Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said Kouachi aiming Kalashnikov rifles toward a police officer, before shooting him dead after leaving the office of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, 2015. (FILE/AFP/Courtesy of Jordi Mir)
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The covers of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo reading “All of this, just for that,” to be published on Sept. 2 to mark this week’s start of the trial for 14 accused in Jan. 2015 jihadist attacks in Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2020

Trial begins over Charlie Hebdo terrorist killings that shook France

  • Evidence will be presented by 150 witnesses and experts
  • The Daesh-claimed France attacks that started on Jan. 7, 2015 saw 250 people killed

PARIS: Fourteen people accused of helping terrorist gunmen attack the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket went on trial Wednesday, over five years after days of terror that sent shockwaves through France.
The attacks that began on Jan. 7, 2015 sparked a series of terrorist attacks on French soil, including “lone wolf” killings by people said to be inspired by the Daesh group that have since claimed more than 250 lives.
The weekly — whose taboo-shattering style makes it for supporters a beacon of free speech — in a typically defiant move in its Wednesday issue republished cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that had angered Muslims around the world.
The trial got underway at a special court in Paris and will over the next two-and-half-months hear from some 150 experts and witnesses in hearings that will again open up one of the most painful chapters in France’s modern history.
Although the three assailants were killed by police, prosecutors have rejected claims that the trial will focus only on “little helpers” suspected of providing weapons or organizational support.
“It is about individuals who are involved in the logistics, the preparation of the events, who provided means of financing, operational material, weapons, a residence,” national anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told France Info radio on Monday.
“All this is essential to a terrorist operation,” he said, adding that relatives of the 17 victims and others would testify at the trial.

Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were gunned down on Jan. 7, 2015, when brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the paper’s offices in eastern Paris.
A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, who became close to Cherif Kouachi while they were in prison, killed a 27-year-old police officer, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, during a traffic check in Montrouge, outside Paris.
Then on Jan. 9, Coulibaly killed four men, all Jews, during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris. He recorded a video saying the three attacks were coordinated and carried out in the name of the Daesh terror group.
Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were killed when officers carried out a nearly simultaneous operation at the printing shop where they were holed up in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.
“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” Charlie Hebdo director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who was wounded in the attack and will attend the trial, wrote in an editorial published Wednesday.
The publication of the cartoons drew fresh condemnation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry, which said the decision to print them again was “deeply offensive.”
But French President Emmanuel Macron defended the “freedom to blaspheme” and paid tribute to the victims of the attack.
“A president of France should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist or editorial staff because there is freedom of the press which is rightly cherished,” he said on a visit to Beirut.
Christophe Deloire, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom group, hailed the decision to republish the cartoons.
“It is a courageous move and a very strong affirmation of their freedom of expression and their refusal to be intimidated,” he said outside the court.

The trial was originally set for last spring but was delayed by the coronavirus crisis that shut down most French courthouses.
Of the 14 suspects, three are being tried in absentia: Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s girlfriend, and two brothers, Mohamed and Mehdi Belhoucine, all of whom fled for IS-controlled areas in Syria or Iraq just days before the attacks.
The Belhoucine brothers were reportedly killed while fighting alongside IS, while French officials suspect Boumedienne is on the run in Syria. Arrests warrants remain outstanding for all three.
Mohamed Belhoucine and Ali Riza Polat, a French citizen of Turkish origin, face the most serious charges of complicity in a terrorist act, which carried a a maximum sentence of life in jail.
The former is thought to have become the ideological mentor of Coulibaly after meeting him in jail, opening up channels of communication for him to IS.
Polat, seen as close to Coulibaly, is suspected of playing a central role in preparing the attacks, notably by helping to build up the arsenal of weapons used.
Most of the other suspects are on trial for association with a terror group, a crime that comes with a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Given its historical importance, the trial at the Paris courthouse will be filmed for France’s official archives, a first for a terror trial. It is scheduled to run until Nov. 10.


EU warns of slim window to avoid repeat of prior virus peak

Updated 4 min ago

EU warns of slim window to avoid repeat of prior virus peak

  • EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the most recent risk assessment showed that some countries are reporting more cases now than they did during the earlier pandemic’s peak
  • More than 3 million cases have been reported in Europe since the beginning of the year, including 187,509 deaths

BRUSSELS: European Union officials urged member nations Thursday to move quickly to slow the latest wave of COVID-19 infections to avoid a repeat of the broad lockdowns that paralyzed the continent’s economy in the spring.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the most recent risk assessment showed that some countries are reporting more cases now than they did during the earlier pandemic’s peak in Europe.
“We are at a decisive moment. All member states must be ready to roll out control measures, immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks,” Kyriakides said. “This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”
More than 3 million cases have been reported in Europe since the beginning of the year, including 187,509 deaths, according to figures from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
To control the virus’s rebound, several EU nations have imposed localized lockdowns, limited public and private gatherings again, and restricted the operation of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.
European Center for Disease Prevention and Control director Andrea Ammon, noting the social impact of such moves, noted the need to maintain basic precautions such as physical distancing and frequent hand washing.
“Until there is a safe and effective vaccine available, rapid identification, testing, and quarantine of high-risk contacts are some of the most effective measures to reduce transmission,” Ammon said.
Her agency said in its latest evaluation of the pandemic that the level of immunity in the European population remains low, estimating it is under 15% in most of the EU and the UK
“Most of the people can still be infected,” Ammon said.
The ECDC said EU countries should emphasize curbing the spread of the virus among children and adults under age 50, making sure the public is aware that people in those categories can become seriously ill from COVID-19 as well as expose more vulnerable populations to the virus.
While some EU members have shortened their mandatory quarantine periods, the ECDC continues to recommended 14-day quarantines for people who had contact with infected individuals.
“The pandemic is far from over and we must not drop our guard,” Ammon said.