By Marta Garde
Paris, Sep 2 (efe-epa).- On the morning of 7 January 2015 two well-armed gunmen walked into the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shot 12 people dead.
Over the next two days, a third attacker killed four others and took hostages at a nearby Jewish supermarket.
Five years later, 14 defendants have gone on trial to face charges for various terror offenses for their alleged involvement in helping the three attackers — all of whom were later killed by police — plot the mass shooting.
The three days between 7 and 9 January marked the beginning of a wave of terrorism in France that claimed the lives of 250 people, including the 130 who were murdered in an extremist Islamist attack on the Bataclan music venue and several bars in the French capital in November 2015.
The Charlie Hebdo trial began at a Paris court on Wednesday and is due to conclude on 10 November after 49 days of hearings involving 84 lawyers and 114 witnesses.
Only 11 of the 14 accused will appear in the courthouse.
Three of the suspects are still being sought by French police and are believed to have escaped to Syria and Iraq.
The 11 defendants in the dock confirmed their identities to the judge and proceedings went ahead under tight security both inside and outside the building.
The accused face charges of aiding a criminal terrorist organization through a variety of means ranging from logistical support to arms supply, and could face prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life if they are convicted.
“I reject the idea that those who are here are ‘second level.’ These people allowed the killers to carry out their attacks,” lawyer Samia Maktouf said.
Maktouf represents Lassana Bathily, a French citizen of Malian origin who hid people in a freezer at the kosher supermarket during the attack before managing to escape and inform the police of the siege.
The first attack was carried out at the Charlie Hebdo offices by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.
A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, who was in contact with the Kouachis, killed a police officer and on 9 January he took a dozen people hostage at the Hypercacher supermarket, killing four of them.
“The civil parties have been asking questions for years. Why? How was it possible?” Philippe Assor, a lawyer for the partner of slain Charlie Hebdo economist Bernard Maris, told the press on Wednesday.
“Convictions are important but they have more of a symbolic value.
“The important thing is the answers and the investigation.”
Charlie Hebdo sparked protests across the Muslim world in 2006 when it published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed, which it has repeated on several occasions since then, including on Wednesday to mark the start of the trial.
The newspaper’s lawyer Richard Malka said the decision was part of the “spirit of Charlie” and that the publication refuses to bow to threats against liberty and the freedom to criticize.
Opinion polling firm Ifop on Tuesday said 59 percent of respondents defended Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish the illustrations of Muhammed, which is considered forbidden by the majority of Muslims.