Four convicted in trial over Islamic State killing of French priest

Four men have been convicted on terrorist charges over the murder of a Catholic priest in France in 2016.

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

The four men were handed sentences of between eight years and life in prison over the attack on Father Jacques Hamel.

The 85-year-old priest was stabbed in his Normandy 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 slashed the priest’s throat and seriously injured another elderly churchgoer.

The two attackers, Abdel Malik Petitjean and Adel Kermiche, were killed by police as they left the church. The four men on trial in Paris were accused of having helped or encouraged 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 that they voluntarily associated with individuals who were preparing to commit terrorist crimes. But they argued that wasn’t enough to mark themselves as terrorists.

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

Jean-Philippe Steven Jean-Louis, 25, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for trying to go to Syria with one of the attackers, and for his Islamic proselytism on Telegram.

A cousin of one of the attackers, Farid Khelil, was sentenced to 10 years. Prosecutors said he was informed of the attack plan and that he had supported it.

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

The biggest punishment was handed to the absent defendant, Rachid Kassim, a notorious French recruiter for IS.

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

He had already received a life sentence in absentia in 2019 for having ordered a failed attack near Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Archbishop of Rouen welcomed the verdict and said in a statement “Justice was 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 hate or vengeance.”

Families of victims held hands with the defendants, and the injured man testified that he forgave them, he added.