PARIS – The main defendant in the 2015 Paris attacks said the coordinated killings were in retaliation for French air strikes on the Islamic State group and called the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal” when he added his role first time recognized.
Salah Abdeslam, who was dressed in all black and refused to take off his mask when speaking in a purpose-built courtroom, remained silent throughout the investigation. Observers waited to see if he would reveal details during the process.
On November 13, 2015, nine armed terrorists and suicide bombers from the Islamic State hit each other in several locations in Paris within minutes. It was the deadliest violence in France since World War II and one of the worst terrorist attacks in the West that shook the country’s sense of security and rewrote its policies.
Abdeslam is the only survivor of this cell, the majority of which were French or Belgian in members. After his suicide vest failed the night of the attacks, he fled to his hometown of Brussels.
On Wednesday, a screen in the courtroom showed a photo of the car Abdeslam left in north Paris after dropping the three suicide bombers in the stadium. Abdeslam’s target was unclear, but when the Islamic State took responsibility the next day, the statement alluded to an attack that never took place in the neighborhood where he parked the car.
The two people Abdeslam asked to drive from Brussels to Paris through the night to pick him up are among the 20 people on trial. Six of them are tried in absentia.
Abdeslam, who was arrested months after the attacks, said the killings were in response to French air strikes in Syria and Iraq. France was part of the international coalition that formed when extremists conquered vast areas in both countries.
“We fought against France, we attacked France, we targeted the civilian population. It was nothing personal against them, “Abdeslam said.” I know what I have said may be shocking, but it is not about digging the knife deeper into the wound, it is about being honest with those who are suffering immeasurably. “
George Salines, whose daughter Lola was among the 90 dead in the Bataclan, refused to accept Abdeslam’s reasoning.
“To explain that we wanted to target France and not individuals – right, unless it was people who were injured and killed, innocent people who were voluntarily targeted. That is morally unacceptable, ”he said.
The same network hit Brussels Airport and the metro system in March 2016, killing another 32 people. In Paris, among others, Mohammed Abrini is on trial, who left the city on the night before the attacks in 2015 and took part in the attacks in Brussels. He admitted a role on Wednesday.
“I acknowledge my part in … (but) in this evil that happened in France, I am neither the commander nor the architect. I didn’t provide any logistical or financial help, ”said Abrini.
The ghost of the architect of the attacks, the late Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was great in the early days of the trial.
The courtroom saw him on video while escaping on the subway. An investigator testified that he spoke to the attackers and someone in Brussels on the phone during the attacks.
Counterterrorism investigators spotted Abaaoud in a surveillance video when he was walking into the Paris subway with another of the gunmen. They recognized Abaaoud by his fluorescent orange shoes – and it was a key moment in this case.
“As soon as we see this video, it changes everything because we discover that at least two terrorists are still alive,” said the investigator. His name was not disclosed publicly, as is customary in French counter-terrorism trials.
Abaaoud and the remaining armed man died days later in a police shootout and suicide explosion.
The same investigator also testified to the devastation the officers felt in the course of the attacks.
“The mood we had that evening at Bataclan was one of failure. … I’m not sure we had the means to prevent it from happening. But when we went to Bataclan, that was the feeling, ”he said.
The process is said to take nine months. Abdeslam has already burst comments against the group’s treatment in prison and declared his profession as a “fighter for the Islamic State”. But Wednesday’s testimony came at the invitation of the presiding judge.
“This court cannot be a platform for his fanaticism,” warned Mehana Mouhou, lawyer for 70 victims. “The court cannot be a platform for its propaganda. We have to be very careful there. “