Charlie Hebdo trial opens in Paris. Will France find closure?

Charlie Hebdo trial opens in Paris. Will France find closure?

The trial of the January 2015 attacks on the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket opened on August 31st. In the same week, Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons on Mohammed that incited the attack at the time, under the title “all this for nothing”. The message that the magazine wanted to convey is that the massacre of 12 victims has not silenced the magazine: liberty of expression still prevails.[1][2]

The three-day attack
The jihadist terrorist attack on the Hebdo offices was executed by two French brothers of Algerian origin – Chérif and Said Kouachi. The brothers broke into the newsroom, shouting “we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad”, and killed 11 people. The following day, a third attacker, Amédy Coulibaly, killed a police officer in a Parisian suburb. The next day, Coulibaly took several people hostage at a kosher supermarket and killed four of them.[3][4][5]

Chérif and Said Kouachi, who carried out the attack on the magazine, were killed by the police in the north of Paris two days later; while Coulibaly – the third attacker – killed himself when the police made a surge on the shop. [6][7]

The trial
The trial – postponed by almost four months because of the coronavirus pandemic – is supposed to judge the unfolding of the three attacks of January 2015 and is expected to last 49 days. 144 witnesses are called to bring their testimony. Since the terrorists were all neutralised and killed, the court will focus on those involved in helping them carry out the assaults. The accused face charges of providing weapons and logistical support for the attacks and risk sentences up to 20 years in prison.[9]

The first of many trials
This trial will be the opening one in a series of other trials that will focus on major jihadist attacks across France these past years.[11] Among them are the November 2015 attacks in Paris that caused 130 deaths and the attack in Nice in July 2016 that killed 84. [12] “In a sense, it will be a sort of a big rehearsal,” says Antoine Mégie, a professional on counterterrorism laws.[13]

Mégie has also proposed an answer to the question of what meaning we should give to a trial in which the authors of the attack are already dead. According to him, this trial is an “historical first.” It will be the first terrorist trial which will be filmed and archived. At the request of the national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office, the Paris Court of Appeal has in fact authorised the recording of all proceedings. “The aim of the trial,” says Mégie, “is to produce a memory of the attacks.” But also, like any trial, it will refine and change the law itself. According to Mégie, there will be a legal and penal debate around the responsibility of those people who helped the terrorists. Will they be recognised as accomplices? Does the help they gave to the terrorists make them members of this terrorist group as well? Or are they simply criminals, without being qualified as terrorists? Even though these issues seem merely technical, they are fundamental ones which will have great implications for future trials in France.[14]

Additionaly, according to sociologist Gérôme Truc – a specialist in the social impact of terrorism who has written a lot on the way countries such as France have reacted to and commemorated terrorist assaults[15] – France needs this trial in order to be able to move on: “From a collective point of view, you need a trial to say that this sequence of events is closed and is now in the past.”[16]

Ghila Amati

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[1] Charlie Hebdo ripubblica le caricature su Maometto. “Non chineremo mai la testa”
[2] Charlie Hebdo ripubblica le vignette su Maometto: «Non ci piegheremo mai»
[3] Trial Over January 2015 Attacks Opens in Paris
[4] Charlie Hebdo terror trial begins in Paris, five years after deadly attacks
[5] Charlie Hebdo reprints cartoons of prophet ahead of terror trial
[6] Charlie Hebdo: 14 suspects on trial over Paris massacre
[7] Charlie Hebdo reprints cartoons of prophet ahead of terror trial
[8] Charlie Hebdo: 14 suspects on trial over Paris massacre
[9] Trial Over January 2015 Attacks Opens in Paris
[10] Charlie Hebdo: 14 suspects on trial over Paris massacre
[11] Charlie Hebdo: 14 suspects on trial over Paris massacre
[12] Trial Over January 2015 Attacks Opens in Paris
[13] Trial Over January 2015 Assaults Opens in Paris
[14] Attentats de janvier 2015. Sans les terroristes, à quoi sert le procès ?
[15] Trial Over January 2015 Assaults Opens in Paris
[16] Trial Over January 2015 Attacks Opens in Paris