Defendants in deadly 2015 Paris attack case finally stand trial

Salah Abdeslam goes on trial with 19 others over the country’s worst terrorist atrocity

Lawyers warn that the trial will revive horrors of the night in November 2015 when terrorists killed 130 people across Paris. AFP
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The only surviving member of the armed cell that killed 130 people in Paris six years ago goes on trial on Wednesday with 19 other detained, absent and dead defendants accused of the worst terrorist attack in French history.

Salah Abdeslam, 31, will be one of 14 defendants expected to appear in the Paris court for the marathon trial.

The process is likely to reignite trauma for hundreds affected by the three-hour gun and bomb attack and renew attention on failures by the authorities.

A special courtroom has been prepared for the trial into the ISIS-directed attacks on the national football stadium, bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall, where most of the victims were killed.

Three hundred and fifty people were wounded.

The trial will last for nine months, during which hundreds of victims and their relatives will give evidence, along with former president Francois Hollande, who was attending the match attacked by the terrorists.

The case file runs to a million pages in 542 volumes.

Most of the defendants face the maximum life prison sentence if convicted of complicity in the attacks. Only Abdeslam is charged with murder.

“It will serve as an exceptional lesson to France and the entire world,” Samia Maktouf, who is representing 40 plaintiffs at the trial, told France 24.

“A lot of the plaintiffs have asked me how close they will be to the defendants. That’s something that will really affect them.

“It must be recognised that it will revive the pain even six years on. It’s like it was yesterday for some people.”

The attack came 10 months after gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, killing 12 people.

The first suicide bombers triggered their explosive belts outside the Stade de France stadium on November 13, 2015, while France was playing Germany, killing a Portuguese man.

The three bombers were driven there by Abdeslam, prosecutors say.

A group of gunmen, including Abdeslam’s brother Brahim, then opened fire indiscriminately on people gathered at restaurants in the capital.

The massacre ended with an attack at the Bataclan venue where US band Eagles of Death Metal were performing to a packed house. About 90 people died there.

All 10 attackers detonated their suicide vests or were killed by police except for Abdeslam, who dropped his own belt, which was found to be defective, and went on the run for four months.

He was arrested in Belgium after a shootout with police.

Frenchman Abdeslam and a Tunisian accomplice have since been jailed for 20 years for shooting and wounding four officers during the episode.

Days after their arrests, members of the same cell launched attacks in Brussels that killed 32.

Abdeslam is also believed to have written a letter found by Belgian police on a computer in 2016, in which he declared he "would have liked to be among the martyrs" and is ready to "finish the job".

He has refused to co-operate with the French investigation and remained largely silent during his trial for the police shootings. He will speak in January if he decides to give evidence at the trial.

The 14 defendants who are due to appear in court from Wednesday include other members of the Brussels attack cell.

They are due to face charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning and weapons offences.

They include Osama Krayem, a Swedish citizen of Syrian origin, who is accused in Sweden of involvement in the murder of a Jordanian fighter pilot in Syria in early 2015.

The pilot was locked in a cage and burnt to death, video of which was later released by ISIS.

Five of the six defendants who are being tried in their absence are presumed dead, mainly from air strikes in Syria, where the Paris attacks were planned. One is in a Turkish prison.

They include French brothers Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain and Osama Atar, a Belgian, who is suspected of being a co-ordinator of the attack from Syria.

Atar is believed to have been killed in a drone strike there in 2017.

His role raises questions for the Belgian government as he fled to Syria from Belgium after serving a sentence for terrorism.

The authorities had hoped they could use him to infiltrate terrorist cells but the plan backfired, according to a new book on his role in the attacks.

“It suits many people that he is not here today,” said one of the authors, Belgian politician Georges Dallemagne.

The trial is also expected to examine how some of the plotters managed to travel undetected to France, reportedly among the flow of migrants from ISIS-controlled regions of Syria.

One of the key players in the plot, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, managed to travel from Syria to Paris despite being high on the wanted lists of Belgian and French authorities.

Abaaoud was killed by French police north-east of Paris five days after the attacks.

The verdict for the 20 defendants is due to be delivered in May next year.

Updated: September 06, 2021, 10:44 PM