The Bataclan terrorist attack trial is at risk of being exploited as a major propaganda tool by Salah Abdelslam, the main accused, after he declared himself “a soldier” and portrayed himself as a victim of incarceration.
On Wednesday, the sole survivor of the terrorist cell that carried out the November 2015 atrocity told the Paris courtroom he wanted to provide evidence that he was being “treated like a dog” behind bars but that he would be “resuscitated” in death anyway.
And the trial was disrupted for a second consecutive day on Thursday after the accused made political statements from the dock, prompting the judge to briefly suspend the hearing.
The presiding judge granted him the right to speak in a discussion about which victims' representatives would be allowed to participate.
Abdeslam asked whether the victims of wars in Syria and Iraq would also be invited to testify, and alleged that he and his fellow defendants were being treated as if they had already been found guilty.
He also said that some of his co-accused - those suspected of helping him get back to Brussels, where he is from, after the attacks - were not involved in the Paris attack plot, and had only helped him out of generosity because they were his friends.
Judge Jean-Louis Peries repeatedly told Abdeslam that he was straying off the topic of the hearing, and eventually cut off his microphone.
“Let me remind you that you have had five years to explain yourself and you said nothing,” Mr Peries told Abdeslam, referring to the time police and magistrates spent investigating the attacks and preparing the trial.
Abdeslam continued to talk after that, and the judge ordered a suspension of the hearing. It resumed about 25 minutes later.
Patricia Correia, whose daughter Precilia was killed in the attacks, is one of those giving evidence at the hearing expected to last eight months. She said she was braced for the grandstanding.
“I am interested in raising the memory of those who have been torn from life, those who have suffered physical and psychological trauma, so that it is respected and lasts over time. That's what I expect from the trial,” she told French TV station BFM.
“But then [Abdeslam] can say what he wants, it doesn't touch me at all … I expected him to do provocation, I have always said so.
“He is very lucky to be tried in the country of human rights. He is very lucky when he stops complaining, that he stops saying that he is treated like a dog because he is not treated like a dog. France is still not a country where people are treated like dogs.
“For me, this guy is a robot, he was remotely controlled to help do this massacre.”
Twenty men are on trial accused of carrying out the massacre that killed 130 people, wounded about 500 more and left France traumatised.
The attack, France’s deadliest since the Second World War, involved nine gunmen and suicide bombers striking multiple locations within minutes of each other.
The Bataclan concert hall, France’s national football stadium and restaurants and cafes in Paris were set upon on November 13, 2015.
Six of those charged will be tried in absentia.
On Wednesday, Abdelslam, wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and black trousers, remained defiant but a lawyer for the plaintiffs said he was “not the main event” and that the first day went well.
Surviving victims of the Bataclan terrorist attack and those who lost loved ones are hoping the trial will get to the heart of the tragedy and uncover all the facts.
Abdelslam is believed to hold the answers to vital questions about the people behind the planning of the attacks, both in Europe and further afield.
The 31 year old, who is the only person charged with murder, refused to speak to prosecutors.
French newspapers have reported that Abdelslam showed awareness that he was being monitored in the Fleury-Merogis remand centre near Paris.
“It is difficult to know to what extent the detainee is sincere in his faith or if it is an image intended for the outside since he knows he is being filmed permanently,” one source told Le Figaro newspaper. “The first three years, the man was totally silent. It is a shell that he has forged to testify to his rejection of institutions and of society.”
Abdelslam told the courtroom he had given up his profession to “become a soldier” for ISIS.
One of his lawyers denounced his client’s detention conditions and said he was in a “depressed state” as a result of the strip searches to which he was subjected upon his arrival at the courthouse.
Abdelslam interrupted him to complain that they were “being treated like dogs, here it's very nice, you've got flat screens, but back there … I've been treated like a dog for six years and I've never complained.”
After carrying out the Bataclan attacks, the same ISIS terrorist network killed 32 people in Brussels a month later.