Charlie Hebdo attack: suspected accomplices go on trial in Paris

Fourteen charged over killing of 17 people at satirical magazine and kosher supermarket

The trial of 14 suspects accused of involvement in the 2015 attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher has opened in Paris.

The proceedings, which are expected to last 49 days and are being recorded live for “the historical record”, began amid high security, and will relive the three days in January 2015 during which 17 people were killed and others were injured.

The court will hear from 144 witnesses, 14 expert witnesses and 200 interested parties, mainly the friends and family of the victims.

After the accused – who appeared in court behind a glass screen – gave their names and ages, the court was given a summary of the facts of the attacks, drawn from a total of 171 lengthy reports compiled by investigators over the last five years.

As the presiding judge, Régis de Jorna, read the names of those killed, several members of their families wept. Others left the court.

The attacks began on 7 January 2015, when the brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi rampaged through the offices of tCharlie Hebdo in Paris, killing nine journalists and cartoonists, a building maintenance worker and two police officers.

On 8 January, Amédy Coulibaly gunned down a police officer and critically injured a street cleaner. The following day, Coulibaly, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State, stormed the Hyper Cacher supermarket, killing four Jewish people and taking others hostage.

All three gunmen were killed in shootouts with the police.

Afterwards, millions of people took to the streets under the banner #JeSuisCharlie in a show of solidarity with those killed in the attacks. Charlie Hebdo had infuriated Muslims worldwide by printing controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

Any suggestion that those on trial – aged between 30 and 67 – were only minor players has been rdismissed by prosecutors and relatives of the victims. “These people aren’t lackeys,” said Patrick Klugman, a lawyer for one of the victims, insisting the suspects shared a deep-seated antisemitism.

Three of the suspects are being tried in absentia: brothers Mohamed and Mehdi Belhoucine and Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s girlfriend, who left for Isis-controlled areas in Syria or Iraq in the days before the attacks.

Of the suspects who appeared in court, Ali Riza Polat, 35, faces the most serious charges of complicity in a terrorist act, which carries a maximum sentence of life in jail.

Polat, who was 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.

He appears at “each stage of planning the attack”, according to the judicial investigation, organising secure phone lines, checking the price of explosives and ammunition, and traveling with Coulibaly to Belgium. Polat was the first among the 11 accused in court to speak on Wednesday, briefly confirming his name and date of arrest.

His lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, caused outrage when she accused the country’s secret services of failing to do their job and prevent the attacks. Lawyers representing the victims’ families described her claim as “indecent”. Coutant-Peyre is most famous in France for having defended Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, otherwise known as Carlos the Jackal, whom she married while he was in jail.

Defence lawyers also objected to De Jorna’s insistence that everyone should wear a mask, including the defendants, although he admitted it was “a problem to not see the faces of the accused”.

Mohamed Belhoucine, who met Coulibaly in jail and is accused of opening up channels of communication with Isis, faces the same complicity charge as Polat. Belhoucine’s whereabouts are unknown, and both he and his brother have been reported as killed while fighting with the terrorist group. French officials suspect Boumedienne is in Syria.

All but one of the remainder of the accused in court face charges of facing charges of “association with a terrorist group”. The last one is on trial for “association with criminals”.

Among those in court were Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, the director of Charlie Hebdo who survived the attack. Also present was Corinne Rey, known as Coco, a cartoonist who was forced at gunpoint to enter the door code allowing the Kouachi brothers into the offices.

Hours before the trial opened, Emmanuel Macron, on an official visit to Lebanon, defended the “freedom to blaspheme” in France.

The French president said: “Since the start of the third republic in France there has been the freedom to blaspheme, which is linked to the freedom of conscience … I am here to protect all these freedoms.

“A president of the republic is not here to qualify the editorial choice of a journalist or an editor because we have the freedom of the press, that we rightly hold dear … I will just say that in France one can criticise governments, president, blaspheme etc.”

He said he wanted to express his thoughts for the families of those who were “so cowardly killed” in the attacks.

Jean Castex, the prime minister, tweeted “Forever Charlie”.