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Jeudi 9 novembre 2017
France/ There Will Be A Second Merah Trial
The Merah-Malki trial helped the French public opinion to get a fuller perception of what jihadism and terrorism really are.
General Prosecutor Naima Rudloff appealed the sentences passed on November 3 by the Special Criminal Court in Paris on Abdelkader Merah and Fettah Malki, the two major accomplices of Mohamed Merah, a jihadist terrorist who engaged in a killing spree in Toulouse and Montauban, Southern France, in March 2012. A 23 years old French citizen of Algerian descent, Mohamed Merah murdered three soldiers, a young rabbi and three preteen Jewish children, and wounded or maimed more people, before being shot by the security forces.
It took five years to conduct the preliminary inquiries : the prosecution case is said to comprise of no less than one hundred seventeen volumes of a few hundred pages each. The Merah-Malki trial itself lasted five weeks and was intensely followed throughout France. On the face of it, both defendants were sentenced to quite harsh penalties : Abdelkader Merah was to serve 20 years in jail, and Malki 14 years. Eric Dupont-Moretti, the defendants chief counsel, is routinely dubbed in the French media as « Acquitator » for his impressive record in acquitals, even in seemingly desperate cases. He pleaded for Merah – and by implication Malki as well – to be cleared from all charges. This time, he lost.
Still, the Prosecutor General settled for an appeal. Which means that the case will be
judged again, presumably next year, albeit by a differently composed Special Court. (While a regular Criminal Court, under French law, consists of professional judges and a citizens jury drawn by lot, the Special Criminal Court, which is located in Paris and deals with cases pertaining to terrorism, consists only of professional judges, since some regular jurors may be threatened or intimidated by some defendants.) Many observers wonder whether, under such conditions, the same facts are not just going to be rehearsed, and the same witnesses heard anew. With no certainty about the final outcome.
Why, then, should General Prosecutor Rudloff be appealing ? The most obvious reason is that, considering the gravity of Mohamed Merah’s crimes and the bonds that developped between the defendants and him, she was asking for the maximum penalties : life imprisonment for Abdelkader Merah, whom she charged both for complicity in murder and murder attempt, and for participation in a criminal terrorist conspiracy ; twenty years for Malki, charged for participation in the same conspiracy. Clearly, the November 3 verdict came as a disappointment in this respect.
Likewise, the civil parties feel that the verdict, which retained only the second charge against Abdelkader Merah and did not fully retain the charge against Malki, was both an insult to the victims’ memory and a dangerous precedent for the judicial handling of other terrorism cases.
Take for instance Latifa Ibn Ziaten, a 57 years old Moroccan born woman who immigrated to France at the age of 17, and a devout, scarf wearing, Muslim. Her son Imad Ibn Ziaten was serving as a sergeant in the First Paratroopers Regiment, an elite unit in the French army. He was shot at pointblank by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse on March 11, 2012. Ever since then, Latifa has been an activist for interfaith peace and democratic patriotism, and against radical Islam. When she heard about the verdict, she said that « her son died in vain since the Court did not go far enough » against the terrorist’s accomplices, and that « people in France are too naive » in these matters.
The Representative Council of French Jewry (Crif) expressed a similar opinion : « Islamist terrorists may understand the verdict as a sign of weakness ». As for the conservative mayor of Toulouse, Jean-Luc Moudenc, he said that, in front of such a « minimal level condemnation », he could only « think of the victims, including the three children ».
But Rudloff appealed for more compelling reasons as well. According to her, « the Court did not draw all the judicial consequences of the facts » gathered by the General Prosecutor’s Office. A prosecutor at the Paris Criminal Court for twenty seven years, she is widely seen as one of the top legal and judicial experts in France, and a sharp critic of judicial dysfunctioning : two years ago, she even founded Jurispensées, a think tank for a judiciary reform. One may then surmise that in addition to her deep understanding of the Merah-Malki case (« an encyclopedic vision of the case », according to Elie Korchia, one of the Jewish victims’ main counsels), her wariness of the judicial system’s shortcomings is at play, and that she will use the issue as an opportunity for advancing her views.
Dupond-Moretti, Abdelkader Merah’s defensor, insisted throughout the trial that the Court should stick to the letter of the law and not allow « public opinion » to interfere with the due process of justice. Such remarks may have influenced the Court in some measure. But on the other hand, trials are also expressions of moral values. And in fact, the Merah-Malki trial helped the French public opinion to get a fuller perception of what jihadism and terrorism really are. Many people were shocked, during the hearings, by the defendants staunch identification with radical Islam and their lack of empathy for Mohamed Merah’s victims. Many people realized for the first time that patriotic French Muslim soldiers were as brutally targeted as Jews. This is going to have a lasting impact.
© Michel Gurfinkiel, 2017
A modified version of this article was published by The Jewish Chronicle on November 9, 2017.
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