By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - The trial of 18 people accused of being responsible for the March 2016 attack at the Grand Bassam beach resort in Ivory Coast resumed Thursday at a court in the city of Abidjan, according to local media reports.
At least 19 people were killed, including three soldiers, and 33 wounded when terrorists opened fire at the beach resort, located around 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Abidjan.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Four of the 18 defendants appeared in court when the trial opened Wednesday, local media reported.
Kounta Abdallah, aka Kounta Dallah, the alleged mastermind of the operation, who was absent, and 17 others are accused of assassination, attempted assassination, acts of terrorism and concealment of criminals, according to the public prosecutor.
During the opening of the trial, the “defense counsel asked the court to find that their clients benefit from ‘automatic freedom,’” said the Abidjan.net news portal.
The defense counsel argued that the defendants, who have been in prison since 2016, were illegally being detained because under the code of criminal procedure, pre-trial detention must not exceed 24 months, it said.
“Our clients are in detention in violation of Article 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We ask the court to note that our clients have automatic freedom. Even when people are prosecuted for terrorism, their rights should not obviously be violated,” Eric Saki, a defense lawyer, was quoted as saying.
However, the public prosecutor, Adou Richard Christophe, objected to the request, indicating that “we are still within the deadlines.”
When the court declared the opening of the substantive hearings, Cisse Mohamed, the first defendant on the stand, denied having participated in the Grand Bassam attack but admitted to accompanying Kounta Dallah to Abidjan airport the day after it took place and was headed to Mali, according to the report.
Mohamed claimed he did not know Kounta Dallah in the past, though he used to work as his driver.
The trial is expected to be held until Dec. 22.