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December 7, 2020 1:08 pm

French Lawyers Express Dismay at Downplaying of Antisemitism During Trial of Terror Suspects Linked to Jan. 2015 Attacks

avatar by Ben Cohen

French lawyer Patrick Klugman speaks to journalists. Photo: Reuters / Federico Pestellini.

Prosecutors at the trial in France of 14 defendants charged with providing support to the Islamist terrorists behind the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris began their closing arguments in court on Monday, amid concern that the antisemitic character of the atrocities was being deliberately downplayed in the proceedings.

“There are some events that mark us all for life, there are some trials more than others that make the voice tremble, that make the heart tighten,” Julie Holveck — vice prosecutor of the National Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office — told the court.

A total of 17 people were murdered on Jan. 7-9 , 2015, as brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi massacred staff at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and their cohort, Amedy Coulibaly, murdered a policewoman and hostages at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris two days later. All three terrorists were later killed in separate gun battles with French police.

But during the last week, lawyers for the victims of the attacks voiced concern that the antisemitic element behind the atrocities had been buried during the long-awaited trial, which began over the summer and was suspended for several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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On Friday, Patrick Klugman — a lawyer representing several of the victims — expressed dismay at the virtual absence of antisemitism as a factor in the indictment against the accused.

“Do you know how many times the word ‘antisemitism’ appears in the indictment order that comes before your court? How many times this word, which caused the crime in one of its most fundamental aspects, is mentioned in 271 pages? Only once!” Klugman declared.

Describing France as a country “where we target and kill Jews with disconcerting ease,” Klugman noted a “nauseating” pattern of officials doubting the antisemitic motives behind the numerous violent assaults on French Jews over the last 20 years.

“In this case, antisemitism is everywhere,” Klugman argued.

He emphasized that the Islamist hatred of Jews was on display not only at the Hyper Cacher market — the kosher grocery store where Coulibaly murdered four Jewish hostages — but during the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Klugman reminded the court that Michel Catalano — a printer who was held hostage by the Kouachi brothers — had said in his testimony that the first question the terrorists had asked him was whether he was a Jew.

“Weeping, Michel Catalno confided to you that, if he had answered in the affirmative, he would have died,” Klugman said.

Other lawyers for the victims echoed Klugman’s remarks before the court.

Elie Korchia — representing two of the Hyper Cacher victims who now live in Israel — said that France had a “blind spot” when it came to antisemitism, “even though this is the trial of antisemitism on our soil.”

Aged between 29 and 68, the 14 defendants on trial face sentences ranging from 10 years in prison to life imprisonment.

Three of them have been tried in absentia, including Hayat Boumeddiene, Coulibaly’s former girlfriend, who fled to Syria a few days before the attacks.

The individual described as “lynchpin” of the attacks — Ali Reza Polat, a 35-year-old French and Turkish dual national — is expected to be handed the severest of all the sentences when the court announces its verdict on Dec. 16.

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