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Trial opens for 17-year-old who attacked Jewish teacher with machete

Benjamin Amsellem (L), a Jewish teacher stabbed by a 15-year-old with a machete last week, hugs Stephane Dejean , one of the two men who helped him during the assault. AFP/Anne-Christine Poujoulat

The attacker, who was 15 years old at the time of the incident, has been charged with terrorism offences and attempted murder, with an aggravated circumstance of anti-Semitism. It is the first time the Paris juvenile court will hear a criminal terrorist case.

The defendant could face a 20-year sentence for having attacked Benjamin Amsellem, a Jewish school teacher wearing a kippah with a machete in December 2016 in Marseille. He had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State armed group (IS).

The closed hearing is a first for Paris’s juvenile court, who until now had only heard misdemeanour cases in regards to minors charged with terrorism offences.

Victim ‘just wants to understand’

Fabrice Labi, Amsellem's lawyer, told Reuters that his client “has many questions” for his attacker.

“He wants to understand what radicalised the boy to the point of wanting to kill people,” he said.

According to Labi, the attacker has said he regrets his actions. “But his redemption came too late, only three or four months before the trial,” he explained.

The lawyer added that the attacker has still not apologised, and that his client was traumatised by the incident and has still not gone back to work.

Juvenile court prepares for more terrorism cases

Over the last few months the Paris juvenile court has been preparing for an increase in terrorism cases involving minors.

In September 2016 the presiding judge designated eight of the court’s 14 judges to be specially trained to handle such cases.

In December, an additional 30 judges and assessors received similar training to bolster the judiciary branch’s efforts to meet this new but persistent demand.

This training came the same month that 50 minors, including 14 girls, were charged with terrorism offences.