It wasn’t the deadliest attack in Europe linked to the Islamic State group, but it was one of the most disturbing: One evening in 2016, an attacker killed two police officers in their family home in front of their three-year-old son.
A trial over the attack in the Paris suburb of Magnanville begins on Monday in a French anti-terror court.
The attacker, Larossi Abballa, was shot dead by police. According to court documents, he told police negotiators that he was responding to an ISIS leader’s call to “kill evildoers at home with their families.”
A childhood friend of Abballa, Mohamed Aberouz, is on trial for complicity in terrorism-related murder, complicity in kidnapping and terrorist conspiracy. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The killings came amid a wave of attacks in France linked to the Islamic State group and have had a lasting impact on police officers across France. Some moved, changed jobs or resigned to protect their loved ones after the Magnanville killings.
According to court documents, Abballa broke into the home of officers Jessica Schneider and Jean-Baptiste Salvaing before they returned from work. When Schneider came home, Abballa cut his throat in the living room in the presence of the child.
The father texted her from the office saying, “I’m leaving,” the documents say. There was no answer. When he got home he was stabbed.
Neighbors called police and the attacker said he was holding the couple’s 3-year-old son hostage, according to the documents. He told a special police negotiator that he acted because the French government had prevented believers from joining the caliphate, and stressed that he was not targeting civilians but representatives of the French state.
The police stormed the house, killed Abballa and rescued the child. The boy has since been raised by family members.
After more than five years of investigations and several arrests, only Aberouz is standing trial. Charges were initially brought against two other people, but were later dropped.
Aberouz, now 30, was arrested a year after the events when his DNA was found on the victims’ computer.
Aberouz initially denied ties to ISIS but then admitted the group was consistent with his beliefs but said he regretted its extremist methods, court documents said.
Aberouz has already been sentenced to prison in another terrorism case, for his role in a failed gas canister attack near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
In the Magnanville attack, Aberouz claims that he never went to the police couple’s house or helped prepare the attack. He said DNA found in the victim’s home could have come from him shaking Abballa’s hand or riding in his car in the days before the attack.
Aberouz’s lawyer, Vincent Brengarth, said he would seek acquittal. “My client is determined to prove his innocence,” he told the AP. “There is no message in which he speaks of an attack.”
Police hope the trial will shed light on the preparations for the attack.
A verdict is expected on October 10th.