'It was nothing personal,' accused tells Paris terror trial

Salah Abdeslam claims deadly attacks were direct response to French air strikes in Syria and Iraq

A courtroom artist's sketch of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris attacks of 2015, speaking to his lawyer. AFP
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The terrorist attacks on Paris were “nothing personal”, the sole surviving member of the armed cell that launched the massacre said on Wednesday.

Salah Abdeslam told the court that France “knew the risks” of attacking targets in Syria and the Paris attacks in 2015 were a reaction.

Abdeslam and 19 others stand accused in the biggest trial in modern French legal history. Six of those charged will be tried in absentia over the attacks that killed at least 130 people.

“We fought France, we attacked France, we targeted the civilian population. It was nothing personal against them,” Abdeslam said.

“I know my statement may be shocking, but it is not to dig the knife deeper in the wound but to be sincere towards those who are suffering immeasurable grief.”

He insisted that he and his co-accused were not “terrorists, extremists” but “Muslims".

“It's about authentic Islam,” he said.

“They say often that I'm being provocative, but it's not true, I want to be sincere. My goal is not to hurt anyone."

Abdeslam, who was arrested months after the attacks, said the assaults were a response to French air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

It was the first time in the trial that Abdeslam had addressed the court with the judges' permission.

Nine ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes at locations around Paris on November 13, 2015, targeting fans at the national football stadium and cafe-goers and ending at the Bataclan concert hall.

It was the deadliest violence to strike France since the Second World War.

Observers are hoping Abdeslam, who declined to remove his mask as he spoke in the custom-built courtroom, will offer new details of the attack.

A photo of the car he abandoned in northern Paris, after dropping off three suicide bombers at the Stade de France, was shown to the court.

Two people he called upon to drive through the night from Brussels to Paris to pick him up are among the 20 on trial.

The trial is expected to last until May 2022, with 145 days of scheduled hearings involving about 330 lawyers.

The same network struck the airport and subway system in Brussels in March 2016, killing 32 people.

Among those on trial in Paris is Mohammed Abrini, who left the city the night before the 2015 attack and took part in the Brussels assaults.

A French investigator told the court: “The sentiment we had that evening at the Bataclan was one of failure … I’m not sure we had the means to prevent everything. But when we went into the Bataclan that was the feeling."

Updated: September 15, 2021, 9:52 PM