A French court on Wednesday handed down prison sentences of up to 13 years to three men accused of links to the brutal murder of an 85-year-old priest in 2016, which shocked the country.
Father Jacques Hamel’s throat was cut at the foot of the altar on July 26, 2016 in his small church in Saint-Etienne-de-Rouvray, a working-class suburb of Rouen in northwestern France.
The attackers, 19-year-old Adel Karmish and Abdelmalik Petitjan, seriously injured a worshiper after storming it during a mass and taking hostages before being shot and killed by police as they tried to leave the church.
In a video they claimed to be members of the Islamic State, which was later called its “soldiers” in response to France’s fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
With the murder of the perpetrators, the three defendants on trial – Jean-Philippe Jean-Louis, Farid Khalil and Yassin Sbaiheh – were charged with “involvement in a terrorist act”.
They were all in contact with the attackers, as Jean-Louis also traveled with Petitjan to Turkey just weeks before the attack in an attempt to reach Syria.
The Paris court sentenced Sbayeh to eight years in prison, Khalil to 10 years, and Jean-Louis to 13 years.
The court ruled that even if they did not know the details of the plot, they “were fully aware that Adil Kermish and Abd al-Malik Petitjan belong to an association of criminals and were preparing a violent act.”
The fourth defendant, Rashid Qassem, who is presumed to have died in Iraq, was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for “complicity” in the murder.
Defendants are tried in France even if they are presumed – but not confirmed dead -.
It was found that Jean-Louis, 25, ran a Telegram channel in the region which played a major role in spreading jihadist ideas among young people.
Khalil, 36, was told he had continually reinforced Pettyjian, his cousin, to carry out an act of terrorism.
Sabihiya, 27, visited Kermish two days before the killing and it was found that he was aware of the killers’ jihadist intentions.
However, the trial was marked by scenes of reconciliation between the defendants and the victim’s relatives almost unheard of in legal proceedings over a string of jihadist killings in France since 2015.
Earlier on Wednesday, Khalil had asked the family for pardon, a move Reverend Roslyn Hamel’s sister said “did a lot of good.”
Prior to the sentencing, Roslyn Hamel had also reached out to Jean-Louis’s four sisters to comfort them and provided a photograph of her brother to each of the three accused.
Hamel’s killing came as the country was on high alert over a series of jihadist attacks that began with a massacre in the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, which killed more than 250 people.