Fourteen people have gone on trial in Paris on charges of assisting the gunmen who attacked the weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket five years ago, leaving 17 people dead.
Only 11 of the suspected accomplices appeared in the packed courtroom on Wednesday to face charges of conspiracy in a terrorist act or association with a terror group – the other three fled to territory controlled by ISIL (ISIS) in Syria or Iraq before the January 2015 attacks on the publication’s offices and the supermarket in the French capital.
The three attackers were shot dead by police in separate stand-offs.Al Jazeera’s Natasha Butler, reporting from Paris, said the trial are going to be “very closely watched” in France until it wraps up in November.
“The attacks shocked numerous people, prompting a huge outpouring of grief,” she added.
Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, was targeted after publishing derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Twelve people, including a number of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were shot dead when French brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed its offices in eastern Paris on January 7, 2015. The attackers also killed a policeman as they left the scene.
A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, who had become on the brink of Cherif Kouachi while they were in prison, killed a 27-year-old policeman , Clarissa Jean-Philippe, during a traffic sign up Montrouge, outside Paris.
Then on January 9, Coulibaly killed four men during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket.
The perpetrators of the attacks had links with al-Qaeda and ISIL. Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were killed when officers administered an almost parallel operation at a printing shop where they were holed up in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.
Over subsequent two-and-a-half months, the court will hear from some 150 experts and witnesses.
The suspected accomplices face charges including financing terrorism, membership during a terrorist organisation and supplying weapons to the attackers.
The defendants tried in absentia include Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s partner at the time of the attacks, and brothers Mohamed and Mehdi Belhoucine.
As the court proceedings got under way, Charlie Hebdo reprinted in its Wednesday issue the hugely controversial caricatures that stirred outrage within the Muslim world once they were first published nearly a decade before the attacks. Physical depictions of the prophet are forbidden in Islam and deeply offensive to Muslims.
“We will never lie . we’ll never hand over ,” director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who was wounded within the attack, wrote in an article published on Wednesday.
The publication of the cartoons drew fresh condemnation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry, which said the choice to print them again was “deeply offensive”.
But French President Emmanuel Macron defended the “freedom to blaspheme” and paid tribute to the victims of the attack.
“A president of France should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist or editorial staff because there’s freedom of the press which is rightly cherished,” he said on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote during a Twitter post: “Always Charlie”.
The 2015 attacks prompted a rally of solidarity in Paris at the time, drawing quite four million people, many holding signs with the slogan “I Am Charlie.”
Dozens of world leaders and statespeople also linked arms during a march under high security to pay tributes to the victims of the attacks.