14 people are on trial for aiding and abetting the attack in Paris on the satirical paper “Charlie Hebdo”. The magazine reprints the cartoons.
More than five years have passed and yet the memory of the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 is as fresh as an unhealed wound. The trial of 14 people who are alleged to have assisted in the attacks against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher store begins on Wednesday.
Eleven people – including the most famous caricaturists in the country as well as the editor and draftsman Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb) – died in the attack, which has gone down in history as a brutal attack on freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The attack on Hyper Cacher, a grocery store with Jewish specialties, was clearly an anti-Semitic crime.
In court now are not the brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi that in the editorial of the January 7, 2015 Charlie Hebdo inflicting the carnage, nor Amedy Coulibaly, who first shot a policewoman on January 8, and the next day in the hostage-taking Killed four people in the Hyper Cacher. All three were killed in an exchange of fire with the police.
Eleven alleged helpers sit in the dock. Another three are negotiated in absentia. It is not known whether this – Coulibaly’s former partner Hayat Boumeddiene and the two brothers Mohammed and Mehdi Belhoucine, who all joined the jihad in Syria – are still alive. Since there is no official confirmation of her death, the indictment will also be read out against her on Wednesday in the ultra-modern Paris Palace of Justice at the Porte de Clichy.
The public prosecutor’s office accuses the defendants of helping the three terrorists to obtain weapons and other material and to prepare the attacks. According to the investigators, the key figure among the alleged accomplices is 35-year-old Ali Riza Polat, who comes from Turkey. He is said to have been in close contact with Coulibaly and, like him, lived in the Paris suburb of Grigny. According to the prosecution, Polat’s name is used “at any point in time in preparation for terrorist actions”. Other defendants allegedly found DNA traces on the weapons.
Extraordinary security precautions have been taken for the negotiations, which are expected to last until November. Since they are of historical importance, the entire process is recorded.
The Charlie Hebdo newspaper will follow the trial as a co-plaintiff particularly closely. The publication is more than ever a symbol of press freedom and the fight against religious intolerance and for the right to blasphemy. The battle cry “I am Charlie!” Heard at solidarity rallies in 2015 remains relevant in France. However, several prominent employees left the editorial office due to differences of opinion after the attack.
It was also about the question of what should be done with all the money that the publication – apart from numerous new subscriptions – had received after the attack to support freedom of the press. At that time there was talk of almost five million euros in donations. Some of the editorial staff feared abuse and demanded more transparency in the use of the funds from the new newspaper top in an open letter in the newspaper Le Monde under the title “The poison of the millions”.
Even five years after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the debate remains topical as to where the biting humor or the mockery of religious fanatics run the limit of taste or even disregard freedom of belief. Author and Charlie Hebdo employee Zineb El Rhazoui, who has said she received regular death threats for criticizing Islam, has left the newspaper.
She said that she had received too little solidarity in connection with the hostility – also from the left. She was accused of Islamophobia. In an interview with Le Figaro she spoke of the danger of the “Islamization of society” and rejected multiculturalism as the result of a failed integration.
Caricatures of Mohammed have been part of Charlie Hebdo’s repertoire for a long time. Whether these were decisive for the Islamist terrorists and their accomplices may be clarified in the process. Charlie Hebdo put the controversial Mohammed cartoons on the front page at the beginning of the trial this week, with the headline: “All this because of that?”
An even bigger process is scheduled for the coming year. It will be about the murderous jihadist attacks in November 2015 in the Parisian Bataclan concert hall as well as against several cafes and in front of the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.