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Trial opens over 2018 Strasbourg terror attack

Four men have gone on trial over the 2018 attack in France’s eastern city of Strasbourg, where a radical Islamist killed five people before being shot dead by police after a 48-hour manhunt.

The traditional Christmas market was in full swing on 11 December when Cherif Chekatt – a convicted criminal on the list of possible extremist security risks – opened fire on revellers, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest” in Arabic).

The four men on trial in Paris are accused of crimes ranging from terrorism to helping supply weapons, including the 19th-century revolver Chekatt used in the attack.

The trial opened at the Paris court with the suspects confirming their names.

One suspect, Audrey Mondjehi, faces the maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted on terrorism charges. The others risk 10 years imprisonment.

The trial, which is due to last until early April, is the latest legal process over the Islamist attacks that have hit France since 2015.

In December 2022, a Paris court convicted all eight suspects in the trial over the 2016 truck attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice, which left 86 dead.

In the most high-profile case, 20 defendants were convicted in June 2022 over their roles in the November 2015 attack in the French capital, when 130 people were killed.

The extremist Islamic State group claimed the Strasbourg attack, but the then French interior minister Christophe Castaner said it had not planned the assault and was just taking credit.

However, a video pledging allegiance to the group was found at the assailant’s home.

‘Radical convictions’

Of the accused, only Mr Mondjehi, 42, was charged with terrorism, while the three others – all in their 30s – face criminal conspiracy charges for their role in supplying weapons.

A fifth defendant, in his mid-80s, may be tried at a later date after a medical examination found his health was not compatible with taking part in the current long trial.

Mr Mondjehi, a former cellmate of the assailant, “could not have been unaware of, or may have even shared, all or part of Cherif Chekatt’s radical convictions”, according to the indictment.

But his lawyer is concerned Mr Mondjehi will be used as a scapegoat in Chekatt’s absence.

“Audrey Mondjehi should not be an outlet for the grief of the victims and should not be condemned because Cherif Chekatt is not there,” said Michael Wacquez ahead of the trial.

According to the investigation, there was no evidence that the other suspects had been aware of Chekatt’s plans.

Candles at the Christmas market in Strasbourg in 2018

‘Turn a page’

While Chekatt cannot now be brought to justice, the trial marks a key moment for survivors and relatives of victims.

The attack “turned my whole life upside down. Everything I’d built up over the last few years collapsed like a house of cards,” said Mostafa Salhane.

The 53-year-old former taxi driver spent 15 terrifying minutes with Chekatt as he climbed into his cab to flee the scene with a gun in hand.

But Claude Lienhard, a lawyer for several dozen people, said there is a perception the investigation has been dragging on.

“There’s a fear that this will be a low-cost trial compared with other terror trials, as many feel they have been forgotten.”

Audrey Wagner saw Chekatt wound one of her friends and plans to attend the trial.

The process is “distressing” but it is important to “turn the page,” she said.

Jean-Yves Bruckman, a now-retired firefighter who aided one of the victims as they died, says he needs answers “to heal”.

“One question keeps coming back to me: how can you kill someone like that?”

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