By the Centre’s Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels

Paris, 17 December 2020

This week, a Paris Tribunal closed the proceedings against 14 complicit in the 7-9 January 2015 terrorist attacks. The targets had been the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, leaving 12 dead among journalists and local police, 1 additional police woman was killed in a Paris suburb, and a Kosher supermarket, leaving 4 dead.

Of the 14 condemned, sentences ran from 4 years to life imprisonment. 3 were in absentia. Of the 11 present, 6 received lesser penalties for non-terrorism crimes.

Those identified as accomplices were charged with funding, provision of weapons and other support to the murderers. 2 were given 30 year jail terms: Ali Riza Polat, who had planned the attacks, was present in court and will appeal; the other is Hayat Boumedienne, who is thought to have found refuge in Syria with ISIS. As the partner of Amedy Coulibaly – who was killed by the police at the Kosher supermarket siege –, she bought the weapons. She, allegedly, planned to target a Jewish school, but found it too well guarded thus choosing the Hyper Cacher.

Charlie Hebdo had been selected by Jihadists both before and since the 2015 assault, due to its publication of a series of cartoons mocking the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. These caricatures opened a continuous debate on freedom of expression and the Napoleonic secularism sanctified in France.

The editor of Charlie Hebdo  and Samuels for the Wiesenthal Centre were separately sued in the same court for criminal defamation over the period of 2004 to 2008. This process included Appeals reaching up to the Supreme Court of France, which Samuels finally won. A victory for freedom of Jewish expression.

The immense rallies and marches in Paris and across France bore banners marked “Charlie, Jews, Police.” Sadly, many would claim that it took the Charlie Hebdo massacre link to maintain the importance of the Hyper Cacher Jewish target.

Justice has not fared well for French Jewry:

- The trial of Hassan Diab for the October 1980 bombing of the Paris Copernic synagogue, leaving 4 dead and 42 wounded. Diab was found and extradited from Canada in 2014. His Paris trial ended in January 2018, with his “release” and “escape” back to Ottawa, despite appeals still pending against him.

- The closing of the case against Sarah Halimi’s murderer – who threw this 65 year old Jewish woman from a window, while screaming curses in Arabic. The charges were dismissed on grounds of “under the influence of narcotics.” A final appeal is pending.

- Violence against Jews seems to have been resolved by revolving doors, slaps on the wrists or warnings, as judges could not conceive of French native-born Muslim victims of racism becoming the perpetrators.

- The attack on the Copernic synagogue in 1980 was the first in two years of 29 shootings and bombings of Jewish targets in France, lasting into 1982. The suspected perpetrator of that August lunchtime attack on Goldenberg’s restaurant in the Paris Jewish quarter Rue des Rosiers, Walid Abdulrahman Abu Zayed, has just been extradited from Norway for trial in Paris. He is charged as one of the four Abu Nidal Organization terror operatives who killed six and wounded 22. France has also issued international arrest warrants for Abu Zayed’s three presumed accomplices, two in Jordan and one in the Palestinian West Bank. We are eager to see this trial begin shortly.

In the meantime, antisemitic violence by wannabe Jihadis is still to be expected. After the 2015 demonstration in Paris – following the Charlie Hebdo/Hyper Kosher attacks –, President Hollande placed armed military at synagogues, Jewish schools and institutions. In a meeting with the then Interior Minister, I recalled his security tally at the march, how many police, special police, military, security agents and plain clothes men... I requested that the day the soldiers at our office door were to be removed – probably for financial reasons –, he announce the continued presence of plain clothes officers, even if there were none.

The state of siege ended, the soldiers disappeared and the plain clothes declaration was forgotten. Those who seek justice, expect to obtain solace for the families of victims and survivors. The late Simon Wiesenthal would request, in such cases, the removal of the blind statue of justice, holding the scales that represent the balance between crime and a punishment that is rarely in equilibrium.

This inequality has been represented in terrorism trials in France – they may be closed but hardly provide closure.