PARIS (AP) — During an extraordinary nine-month trial, the lone survivor of the extremist Islamic State team that attacked Paris in 2015 proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologized to victims and begged for peace. judges to forgive his “errors”. ”
For the families of the victims and the survivors of the attacks, the trial of Salah Abdeslam and his alleged accomplices has been harrowing but crucial in their quest for justice and closure. Finally, the court will deliver its verdict on Wednesday.
Abdeslam faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder and other charges, the heaviest sentence possible under the French justice system.
The historic trial in Paris of 20 men believed to have played a crucial role in the Islamic State massacres that killed 130 people on November 13, 2015, focused on violence at the Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and the national stadium – the deadliest attack in peacetime in France.
For months, the crowded main hall and 12 adjoining halls of the 13th-century courthouse have heard the harrowing accounts of the victims, as well as the testimony of Abdeslam. The other defendants are widely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of having played a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, also claimed by the Islamic State group.
For survivors and grieving loved ones, the trial was an opportunity to tell deeply personal stories of the horrors inflicted that night and to hear details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion between strangers. . Some hoped for justice, but most simply wanted to tell the defendants directly that they had been scarred beyond repair, but not broken.
“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were shooting into the crowd, into the mass of people,” Dominique Kielemoes said at the start of the trial in September 2021. Her son bled to death in one of the cafes. Hearing the testimony of victims was “crucial both to their own healing and that of the nation”, Kielemoes said.
“It wasn’t a mass – it was individuals who had lives, who loved each other, had hopes and expectations,” she said.
France has changed following the attacks: the authorities have declared a state of emergency and armed officers are now constantly patrolling public spaces. The violence has raised questions among the French and Europeans, since most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And they forever transformed the lives of all who suffered loss or testified.
The president of the court, Jean-Louis Peries, declared at the start of the trial that he belonged to the “international and national events of this century”. France emerged from a state of emergency in 2017, having incorporated many of the harshest measures into law.
Fourteen of the defendants appeared in court, including Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the 10-member attack team that terrorized Paris on Friday night. All but one of the six missing men are presumed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in prison in Turkey.
Most of the suspects are accused of helping create false identities, bringing the attackers back to Europe from Syria or supplying them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, was the only defendant tried on multiple counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.
The sentence demanded for Abdeslam of life in prison without possibility of suspension has been pronounced only four times in France – for crimes related to the rape and murder of minors.
Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for nine other defendants. The other suspects were tried on less serious terrorism charges and face sentences ranging from five to 30 years.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors pointed out that the 20 defendants, who fanned out in the French capital armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosive-filled vests to mount parallel attacks, are members of the extremist group Islamic State. responsible for the killings.
“Not everyone is a jihadist, but everyone you judge has agreed to join a terrorist group, either out of conviction, cowardice or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court this month.
Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s Middle East policy and hundreds of civilians killed in Western airstrikes in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State fighters .
During his testimony, former President Francois Hollande dismissed claims that his government was at fault.
The Islamic State, “this pseudo-state, declared war with the weapons of war,” Hollande said. The Paris attackers did not terrorize, shoot, kill, maim and traumatize civilians because of religion, he said, adding that it was “fanaticism and barbarism”.
The night of the attack was a balmy Friday evening, with bars and restaurants in the city packed. In the Bataclan concert hall, the American group Eagles of Death Metal sold out. At the national stadium, a football match between France and Germany had just started, in the presence of President Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The sound of the first suicide bombing at 9:16 p.m. barely carried away the noise of the stadium crowd. The second came four minutes later. A squad of armed men opened fire on several bars and restaurants in another district of Paris. This bloodbath outside ended at 9:41 p.m.
Worse was to follow. At 9:47 p.m., three other armed men burst into the Bataclan, firing indiscriminately. Ninety people died within minutes. Hundreds of people were held hostage – some seriously injured – inside the concert hall for hours before Hollande, watching people covered in blood walk out of the Bataclan, ordered it stormed.
Abdeslam remained silent for years, refusing to speak to investigators. In April, his words began to trickle, in testimonies that sometimes contradicted earlier statements, including about his loyalty to Islamic State.
He told the court he was a last minute addition to the group. He said he “gave up” on his mission to detonate his explosive-packed vest in a bar in northern Paris that night. He first hid near Paris, then fled with friends to Brussels, where he was arrested four months later.
Prosecutors pointed to contradictions in Abdeslam’s testimony – from pledging allegiance to Islamic State at the start of the trial and expressing regret that his explosives strapped to his body did not detonate, to claiming that he changed his mind in the bar and deliberately disabled his vest because he didn’t want to kill “singing and dancing” people.
During closing arguments on Monday, Abdelslam’s lawyer, Olivia Ronen, told a panel of judges that her client was the only one in the group of assailants who did not set off explosives to kill others that night- the. He cannot be convicted of murder, she argued.
“If a life sentence with no hope of regaining freedom is handed down, I’m afraid we’ve lost a sense of proportion,” Ronan said. She stressed throughout the trial that she “does not legitimize the attacks” by defending her client in court.
Abdeslam apologized to the victims during his final court appearance on Monday, saying his remorse and grief were sincere and sincere. Listening to victims’ stories of “so much suffering” changed him, he said.
“I’ve made mistakes, it’s true, but I’m not a murderer, I’m not a killer,” he said.
Surk contributed from Nice, France.