Fourteen people have gone on trial in Paris on charges of assisting the gunmen who attacked the weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket five years ago, leaving 17 people dead.
Only 11 of the suspected accomplices appeared in the packed courtroom on Wednesday to face charges of conspiracy in a terrorist act or association with a terror group – the other three fled to territory controlled by ISIL (ISIS) in Syria or Iraq before the January 2015 attacks on the publication’s offices and the supermarket in the French capital.
The three attackers were shot dead by police in separate stand-offs.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Butler, reporting from Paris, said the trial will be “very closely watched” in France until it wraps up in November.
“The attacks shocked so many people, prompting an enormous outpouring of grief,” she added.
FLY ON THE WALL: The Two Frances
Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, was targeted after publishing derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Twelve people, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists, were shot dead when French brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed its offices in eastern Paris on January 7, 2015. The attackers also killed a police officer as they left the scene.
A day later, Amedy Coulibaly, who had become close to Cherif Kouachi while they were in prison, killed a 27-year-old police officer, Clarissa Jean-Philippe, during a traffic check in Montrouge, outside Paris.
Then on January 9, Coulibaly killed four men during a hostage-taking at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket.
The perpetrators of the attacks had links with al-Qaeda and ISIL. Coulibaly was killed when police stormed the supermarket. The Kouachi brothers were killed when officers carried out a nearly simultaneous operation at a printing shop where they were holed up in Dammartin-en-Goele, northeast of Paris.
Over the next two-and-a-half months, the court will hear from some 150 experts and witnesses.
The suspected accomplices face charges including financing terrorism, membership in a terrorist organisation and supplying weapons to the attackers.
The defendants tried in absentia include Hayat Boumedienne, Coulibaly’s partner at the time of the attacks, and brothers Mohamed and Mehdi Belhoucine.
As the court proceedings got under way, Charlie Hebdo reprinted in its Wednesday issue the hugely controversial caricatures that stirred outrage in the Muslim world when they were first published nearly a decade before the attacks. Physical depictions of the prophet are forbidden in Islam and deeply offensive to Muslims.
“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who was wounded in the attack, wrote in an editorial published on Wednesday.
The publication of the cartoons drew fresh condemnation from Pakistan’s foreign ministry, which said the decision to print them again was “deeply offensive”.
But French President Emmanuel Macron defended the “freedom to blaspheme” and paid tribute to the victims of the attack.
“A president of France should never judge the editorial choice of a journalist or editorial staff because there is freedom of the press which is rightly cherished,” he said on a visit to Beirut, Lebanon.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex wrote in a Twitter post: “Always Charlie”.
The 2015 attacks prompted a rally of solidarity in Paris at the time, drawing more than four million people, many holding signs with the slogan “I Am Charlie.”
Dozens of world leaders and statespeople also linked arms in a march under high security to pay tributes to the victims of the attacks.
Al Jazeera and news agencies