Multiple suspects on trial over jihadist murder of French priest
Four men allegedly connected to the jihadist killing of a Catholic priest, Father Jacques Hamel, as he said mass in a French church in 2016 went on trial in Paris on Monday. Prosecutors are accusing each man of being accomplices in the brutal crime.
Three of the four are facing charges of conspiring with terrorists, with prosecutors saying they all knew of the planned attack through prior communication with the now-deceased attackers. Jean-Philippe Steven Jean Louis, 25, Farid Khelil, 36, and Yassine Sebaihia, 27, have denied the charges and described themselves as “scapegoats.” They face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Jean Louis is accused of spreading propaganda through social media and encouraging jihadist attacks, while the other two suspects are accused of being in contact with the killers and knowing about the attack.
Rachid Kassim, the fourth suspect, is accused by prosecutors of not only being complicit in the murder of the 85-year-old priest, but of actually providing the target and further support to the killers before the attack. He is being tried in absentia, as he is believed to have been killed in a 2017 drone strike in Iraq, though his death has not been confirmed.
Kassim previously received a life sentence in absentia for having ordered a failed 2016 terrorist attack in Paris, in which two women tried to blow up a car near the Notre Dame cathedral.
Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean killed Father Hamel at a church in the small Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on July 26, 2016. The 19-year-old assailants also took hostages, including two nuns, during the attack. The two prime suspects were later shot and killed by police at the scene.
One worshiper, Guy Coponet, was injured in the attack and attended the trial on Monday. The now-92-year-old is expected to testify and said he hopes “those responsible” for the attack “can ask forgiveness from all those who suffered,” according to France 24.
Hamel’s killers claimed to be members of the Islamic State, which later took credit for the attack, and Kassim is accused of recruiting the two.
The priest’s murder occurred during a flurry of terrorist attacks in France, with more than 200 being killed in Islamist-inspired attacks between 2015 and 2017.