A Paris criminal court opened trial Monday for the case of Father Jacques Hamel, a Catholic priest whose throat was slit by two Islamic terrorists in July 2016.
Nearly six years after Father Hamel’s assassination while he was celebrating Mass in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, the victims and their loved ones hope to obtain answers during this trial, despite the absence of the main protagonists.
The two 19-year-old jihadists, Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, who professed allegiance to the Islamic State terror group, were killed by the police as they exited the church on July 26, 2016.
The Paris court is trying four people: Rachid Kassim, the alleged instigator of the attack — tried in absentia and believed probably dead — as well as three alleged members of the entourage of the assailants.
Archbishop of Rouen Dominique Lebrun blesses Father Jacques Hamel’s coffin at the Rouen cathedral in northern France on August 2, 2016 for the funeral of the 85-year-old priest who was murdered by two jihadists on July 26. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
In the words of the prosecution, the three people to appear in the dock of the special assize court of Paris will be from the “family, friends, or telephone entourage” of the two killers.
Jean-Philippe Jean Louis, Farid Khelil, and Yassine Sebaihia are being tried for “terrorist conspiracy,” and are accused of having been aware of the plans of the two jihadists, sharing their extremist ideology, and trying to join an Islamic terrorist group in Syria.
Jean-Philippe Jean Louis, 25, has been described as “very active in the jihadosphere” and prior to the 2016 attack had traveled to Turkey with Abdel-Malik Petitjean, with the apparent aim of reaching Syria.
Farid Khelil, 36, a cousin to Abdel-Malik Petitjean, is presented by the prosecution as an active consumer of jihadist propaganda. The third defendant is 27-year-old Yassine Sabaihia, who had briefly met with the terrorists in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray on July 24, just two days before the attack.
A picture of Father Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old priest who was murdered by two jihadists is on display during Hamel’s funeral at the Rouen cathedral in northern France on August 2, 2016. (Getty)
The fourth defendant, Rachid Kassim, presumed dead in a bombing in Iraq in February 2017, will be the conspicuous absentee. This French propagandist of the Islamic State terror group is the only one to be indicted for complicity in the assassination of the priest and the attempted assassination of a parishioner, for having “knowingly encouraged and facilitated” the criminal actions of Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean.
In regular contact with the two via Telegram, Kassim provided them with advice and instructions for committing violent action on French soil and for making their video of allegiance to the Islamic State.
According to their lawyer, Father Hamel’s two sisters are waiting “to understand who the perpetrators of the act were and their motivations” and why their brother was designated as a target.
In a statement Monday, the spokesman for the French Catholic Bishops’ Conference said that while the death of Father Hamel remains a great suffering for many, “his life and his martyrdom bear fruit.”
“Father Jacques Hamel will remain for the priests of France a fine example of priestly life,” he said. “He will remain for Christians the witness of a charity offered to all, a humble and generous servant to the end.”
“His life and his death resonate for our country as a call to fidelity and fraternity, so that evil does not have the last word,” the statement concluded.