Sole surviving suspect in Paris attacks charts path from schoolboy to extremist

Salah Abdeslam graduated from technical school but was later jailed for burglary

A court sketch of Salah Abdeslam (centre), the sole surviving suspect in the November 13, 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. AFP
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The sole surviving ISIS extremist who helped carry out the Paris 2015 attacks has recounted during testimony in a French court how he came to be a part of the cell.

Salah Abdeslam described having a close family as a boy, growing up with Western values.

Twenty people are on trial in France for their alleged parts in the attacks, including Abdeslam who was detained after his explosive vest malfunctioned.

A French citizen of Moroccan descent, Abdeslam was born and raised in Belgium where he graduated from technical school.

He said he had known nearly all of those accused with him from the Molenbeek area of Brussels, where he grew up.

“Molenbeek is small. Everyone knows each other. I was imbibed with Western values”, he said.

When pressed, he said those values included “living like a libertine, without a thought for God. Doing what you want”.

This court sketch shows Salah Abdeslam, right, flanked by a policeman. AFP

He said that at school he had been a well-behaved child who had grown into a “helpful, friendly” man with a dream of getting married. “My childhood was very simple. I was calm, nice.”

Salah, 32, also told how he was jailed for burglary in 2011 after previously being convicted of a number of motoring offences. “That day I went out with my friends for a drink … but at the outset we hadn’t gone out to [commit a burglary]. We got into it because of the alcohol. It was a mistake.”

He also told the court how he had been engaged before the jail sentence. “We wanted a big marriage. I wanted to get married, to have children and that project, I abandoned it when I invested myself in doing something else, that is to say the things of which I am accused.”

The co-ordinated attacks across Paris killed 130 people, outside the Stade de France sports stadium, inside a rock concert at Bataclan and at crowded restaurants.

The hearing on Tuesday followed five weeks of testimony from attack survivors as well as grieving families, including relatives of a man who later killed himself after struggling with the trauma.

At the start of the trial, Abdeslam identified his profession as “fighter for Islamic State.” He said the deaths of so many innocent people were “nothing personal.”

Abdeslam, who is imprisoned in solitary confinement, said he watched television periodically but primarily was interested in the brief sports activities he is permitted. His cell has two surveillance cameras.

“To live with cameras 24 hours a day, I can tolerate it, thanks to the Lord, but it’s something that could push you to suicide. They were installed to keep me from suicide, but there is no privacy. Even animals are not treated like this,” he said.

Updated: November 03, 2021, 1:05 PM