PARIS — The fugitive widow of an Islamic State gunman and a man described as his logistician were convicted Wednesday of terrorism charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison in the trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 Paris attacks against the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket in which a total of 17 people were killed.
The verdict ends the three-month trial linked to the three days of killings across Paris claimed jointly by the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. During the proceedings, France was struck by new attacks, a wave of coronavirus infections among the defendants, and devastating testimony bearing witness to bloodshed that continues to shake France.
Patrick Klugman, a lawyer for the survivors of the market attack, said the verdict sent a message to sympathizers. “We accuse the executioner but ultimately it is worse to be his valet,” he said.
All three attackers died in police raids. The widow, Hayat Boumeddiene, fled to Syria and is believed to still be alive. The two men who spirited her out of France are thought to be dead, although one received a sentence of life in prison just in case and the other was convicted separately.
Eleven others were present and all were convicted, with sentences ranging from 30 years for Boumeddiene and Ali Riza Polat, described as the lieutenant of the virulently anti-Semitic market attacker, Amédy Coulibaly, to four years with a simple criminal conviction.
Lawyers for the victims and activists hailed a verdict that they said was a victory for justice and freedom of speech after a sometimes traumatic three-month trial that had revived the horror of the killings.
The attacks followed the publication by Charlie Hebdo of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, causing anger across the Muslim world.
Ali Riza Polat, accused by prosecutors of being a right-hand man of one of the attackers, was convicted of complicity in terror crimes and given a 30-year sentence.
The court gave the same term in absentia to Boumeddiene.
A life jail sentence was given to another prime suspect, Mohamed Belhoucine, although he was also tried in absentia and is presumed to be dead in Syria.
All of those present in court were convicted for their role in providing support for the killings.
A 14th accused, Mehdi Belhoucine, the brother of Mohamed and also presumed dead, was not sentenced on Wednesday because the court considered him to have already been convicted at a separate trial in January.
Those on trial were accused of assisting brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and their accomplice, the supermarket hostage-taker Amedy Coulibaly.
All three attackers were killed by French security forces after the attacks.
‘Freedom has last word’
Seventeen people were killed over three days of attacks in January 2015, beginning with the massacre of 12 people at the magazine after it had published controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons.
That attack was followed by the murder of a French policewoman and the hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher market in which four Jewish men were killed.
It was a wintry Friday afternoon, and customers were rushing to finish their shopping before the Sabbath when Coulibaly entered, carrying an assault rifle, pistols and explosives. With a GoPro camera fixed to his torso, he methodically fired on an employee and a customer, and then killed a second customer before ordering a cashier to close the store’s metal blinds.
The first victim, Yohan Cohen, lay dying on the ground and Coulibaly turned to some 20 hostages and asked if he should “finish him off.” Despite their pleas, Coulibaly fired the killing shot, according to testimony from cashier Zarie Sibony.
“You are Jews and French, the two things I hate the most,” Coulibaly told them.
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.
‘They were heard’
Prosecutors had sought an even more severe sentence of life in jail for Polat, but his lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre said he would appeal the verdict.
“We took innocent people to offer vindictiveness,” she said. “The real culprits were not in the box.”
But Patrick Klugman, lawyer for the victims at Hyper Cacher, said: “For most of the victims… I believe that they have feeling of having been heard.”
Those killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack included some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists such as Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, 76, Georges Wolinski, 80, and Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, 47.
To mark the start of the trial on September 2, Charlie Hebdo defiantly republished the prophet cartoons.
Three weeks later, a Pakistani man wounded two people outside the magazine’s former offices, hacking at them with a cleaver.
On October 16, a young Chechen refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty who had showed some of the caricatures to his pupils.
And on October 29, three people were killed when a young Tunisian recently arrived in Europe went on a stabbing spree in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has introduced legislation to tackle radical Islamist activity in France, a bill that has stirred anger in some Muslim countries.