Paris attack accused Salah Abdeslam: ‘I am not a murderer'

He was detained after his explosive vest failed to detonate

Salah Abdeslam is the only surviving member of the group that terrorised Paris in 2015. AP
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The sole surviving ISIS extremist who helped carry out the Paris 2015 attacks has told a court he is not a killer.

Salah Abdeslam pleaded for leniency during his final appearance in court on Monday.

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

Mr Abdeslam apologised to victims on Monday, saying his remorse and sorrow for the 130 people killed and more than 400 wounded was heartfelt and sincere.

“Who can make an insincere apology for so much suffering?” he said. He acknowledged he had made mistakes, but declared: “I am not a murderer, I am not a killer.”

He is a lead figure in the court case over the November 13 attack on Paris, France’s deadliest peacetime assault.

French prosecutors demanded a life sentence without a possibility of parole for Mr Abdeslam.

During closing arguments on Monday, Mr Abdelslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronan told a panel of judges that her client is the only one in the group of attackers who did not set off explosives that night and therefore he cannot be convicted for murder.

“If a life sentence without hope for ever experiencing freedom again is pronounced, I fear we have lost a sense of proportion,” Ms Ronan said.

Mr Abdeslam is on trial with 19 other men accused of playing critical support roles in the massacres in the Bataclan music hall, nearby cafes and at the national stadium.

He has been charged with several counts of murder, complicity to murder, belonging to a terrorist organisation and taking part in a conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organisation.

A verdict in the historic trial is expected on Wednesday.

The accused has said that he disabled the explosive vest and had renounced his mission but police said the vest was faulty.

He told the court how he tried to reach friends and ask for help and that he took a taxi across Paris to Montrouge. He hid out at first near Paris and then fled with friends to Brussels, where he was arrested four months later.

Since the trial opened in September, he has made a few outbursts of bravado, but refused to answer most questions.

In April, his words started flowing and he gave evidence over several days that at times contradicted earlier statements, including on his loyalty to ISIS.

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

Prosecutors have also requested life sentences for suspected ISIS members Osama Krayem, a Swedish citizen, and Tunisian Sofien Ayari, as well as one for Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian accused of having provided weapons and logistical support.

They have emphasised contradictions in Mr Abdeslam’s testimony — from pledging allegiance to ISIS at the start of the trial and expressing regret that the explosives failed to detonate to claiming he had changed his mind and deliberately disabled the explosives strapped to his body because he did not want to kill people who were “singing and dancing”.

Not everyone is an extremist, prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court earlier this month, "but all of those you are judging accepted to take part in a terrorist group, either by conviction, cowardliness or greed".

Updated: June 27, 2022, 5:58 PM
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