Salah Abdeslam denies killings during 2015 Paris attacks but admits ISIS affiliation

Deaths were in response to western involvement in Syria and Iraq, Bataclan suspect says

Salah Abdeslam stands in a Paris courtroom during his trial over his alleged involvement in the November 2015 attacks that killed more than 130 people. AFP
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A man accused of being the sole surviving member of an extremist cell behind the 2015 Paris attacks told a court that he had pledged allegiance to ISIS but he never killed or wounded anyone.

Salah Abdeslam, a French citizen, has taken the stand over his role in the massacre which claimed the lives of more than 130 people, many of whom were attending a rock concert at the Bataclan theatre.

Mr Abdelslam, 32, is one of 20 people being tried for their role in the atrocity, but the only one to be directly accused of murder, attempted murder and hostage taking.

Without explicitly stating what role he had played in the attacks, Mr Abdeslam said only that he had harmed no one.

“I wanted to say today that I did not kill anyone and I did not hurt anyone. Not even a scratch,” Mr Abdeslam said in a short address to the court before the judges began their questioning.

“It's important for me to say this, because since the beginning of this case, people have not stopped slandering me.”

Investigators believe Mr Abdeslam is the only surviving member of the extremist unit that carried out the synchronised gun and bomb attacks on six restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and national football stadium.

Investigators believe his explosive vest malfunctioned and that he fled the French capital in the hours after the attack.

He told the court he had been drawn to ISIS out of compassion for the Syrian people rather than any religious views, and said the West imposed its rules and values on others.

“For us Muslims, it's humiliating,” he said.

French police officers stand during a ceremony to pay tribute to those killed in the November 13, 2015, attacks in front of the Bataclan theatre in Paris. Reuters

Mr Abdeslam largely refused to co-operate with French investigators in the run-up to his trial and appeared at times to goad the judges from the dock.

Asked about a trip he made to Greece where it is believed he met with accomplices, he replied that while the judges might be used to fancier trips abroad, he was simply on holiday.

He said he had never travelled to Syria and that he was not a danger to society. However, he acknowledged that he admired the willingness of ISIS militants to sacrifice themselves daily.

ISIS had staged the attacks in Paris as part of an attempt to compel the president at the time, Francois Hollande, to end French military interventions against the group in Syria and Iraq, Mr Abdeslam said, repeating an assertion made earlier in the trial

“It's his fault that we are here today,” Mr Abdeslam said of Mr Hollande. “If they killed civilians, it was to make an impression.”

The questioning that begins Wednesday will focus initially on Mr Abdeslam's background and events before the attacks. Prosecutors have already established that he spent much of his youth as a cannabis-smoking fan of nightclubs and casinos.

Abdeslam's lawyers convene during his trial which seeks to find answers to France's worst postwar atrocity. AFP

Mr Abdeslam's mother, sister and ex-fiancee had also been scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday, but the presiding judge informed the court that they would not be coming, without giving further details.

The accused has been unrepentant so far in court and has repeatedly disrupted proceedings. He faces life in jail if found guilty.

In one of a series of outbursts, he said that France “knew the risks” of attacking ISIS targets in Syria as part of a coalition fighting the terrorist group.

The attacks scarred the French national psyche and shaped a long-running national debate about immigration, the balance to strike between civil freedoms and security, and the place of Islam in a country that identifies as secular.

More than six years on, those same questions are prominent in the campaign leading up to April's presidential election.

Updated: February 09, 2022, 5:31 PM