French magazine Charlie Hebdo republishes Prophet Muhammad cartoons as trial begins

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday to mark the start of a trial more than five years after its offices were attacked by Islamist gunmen.

The attackers who stormed the magazine’s Paris offices and a kosher supermarket killing 17 people in January 2015, including 12 of the magazine’s staff, are dead but their alleged accomplices now face trial.

Fourteen defendants, three of whom are being tried in absentia, face charges including “complicity” in terrorist crimes and “criminal terrorist association.” Most say they thought they were helping plan an ordinary crime, according to The Associated Press.

Around 200 people are civil parties to the trial, they are expected to include survivors of the Charlie Hebdo attack and hostages held inside the kosher supermarket. A number of them will take the stand to testify as witnesses.

As civil parties, they will have access to all documents of the trial and it will help victims have a better understanding of what unfolded during those three days in January 2015.

The trial will run for 10 weeks.

On Jan. 7 2015, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi gunned down staff of Charlie Hebdo, a magazine known in France for its often irreverent satire of politics and religion.

The next day, Amédy Coulibaly, an acquaintance of Cherif Kouachi, killed a female police officer. On Jan. 9, Coulibaly killed four Jewish men at a kosher supermarket before being killed by police. The Kouachi brothers were shot dead shortly before in a printing press where they had taken refuge outside Paris.

The three-days of terror marked the beginning of a wave of Islamist attacks in France that have killed scores of people and scarred the country’s collective psyche. In November of the same year, a terror spree across Paris left 130 dead in attacks on a music club, restaurants and outside a soccer stadium.

The cover of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo that marked the start of the trial on Wednesday showed the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad along with the headline: “All that for that.”

In an editorial in the magazine, staff explained why they had chosen the start of the trial to re-publish the controversial cartoons saying the caricatures at this time seemed to them to be “essential.”

“We have often been asked since January 2015 to produce other caricatures of Muhammad,” it said. “We have always refused to do so, not that it is prohibited, the law allows us to do so, but because there was a need to have a good reason to do so, a reason which has a direction and which brings something to the debate.”

The magazine also commissioned a poll to canvas public opinion on publishing the caricatures.

According to the poll that was conducted by French pollster Ifop, 59 percent of French people said the newspapers were right to publish these types of caricatures in the name of freedom of expression. Thirty-one percent said they thought the newspapers were wrong to do so, while 69 percent of Muslims in France shared this opinion.

President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that the freedom to blaspheme in France went hand-in-hand with the freedom of conscience.

“I am here to protect all those freedoms,” he told a press conference during an official visit to Lebanon.

Darmanin said 61 terrorist attacks had been foiled since 2013 and that a “major attack plan” was foiled at the start of this year, without providing further details.