Four convicted in trial for murder of French priest by Islamic State

Four men have been convicted of terrorism for the murder of a Catholic priest in France in 2016.

The suspects were found guilty of “terrorist conspiracy” in the attack, claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.

The four men were sentenced to terms ranging from eight years to life in prison for the attack on Father Jacques Hamel.

The 85-year-old priest was stabbed in his Norman church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray by two 19-year-olds as he finished mass.

Two nuns and an elderly couple were held hostage before the assailants slit the priest’s throat and seriously injured another elderly practitioner.

The two attackers, Abdel Malik Petitjean and Adel Kermiche, were killed by the police as they left the church. The four men tried in Paris were accused of aiding or abetting the attack.

Only three defendants were present at the trial, and the other was convicted in absentia.

During the trial, they asked for forgiveness and admitted to having voluntarily associated themselves with individuals who were preparing to commit terrorist crimes. But they argued that was not enough to qualify as terrorists.

Prosecutors disagreed, and judges found them all guilty of criminal association with terrorists.

Jean-Philippe Steven Jean-Louis, 25, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for attempting to travel to Syria with one of the assailants, and for his Islamist proselytism on Telegram.

A cousin of one of the assailants, Farid Khelil, was sentenced to 10 years. Prosecutors said he was made aware of the attack plan and supported it.

Yassine Sebaihia was sentenced to eight years, after crossing France to join one of the attackers for “religion lessons”.

The heaviest punishment was meted out to the absent defendant, Rachid Kassim, a notorious French recruiter for IS.

Kassim, who is believed to have been killed in a 2017 drone strike in Iraq, is suspected of using social media to encourage the attack on the priest and was sentenced to life in prison.

He had already been sentenced to life in absentia in 2019 for ordering a failed attack near Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The Archbishop of Rouen welcomed the verdict and said in a statement “Justice has been served. … (the court) had to convict these men for the good of society.

Lawyer Mehana Mouhou said that at the trial “no one was there in hatred or revenge”.

The families of the victims held the hands of the defendants and the injured man testified that he had forgiven them, he added.

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