Sole surviving 2015 Paris attacker to take stand

Sole surviving 2015 Paris attacker to take stand
Salah Abdeslam is accused of being one of the 10 attacker who killed 130 people in Paris in 2015, as part of an Islamic State attack.
3 min read
09 February, 2022
Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Belgium in March 2016 [Getty]

The main defendant in the trial over the 2015 Paris attacks takes the stand on Wednesday for the first time, with prosecutors and victims' families hoping to learn how a "party animal" came to embrace Islamist extremism.

Salah Abdeslam, 32, is the only survivor among the 10 assailants who killed 130 people on 13 November, 2015, and is charged with murders committed as part of a terrorist organisation.

So far Abdeslam has largely refused to respond to investigators since his March 2016 arrest in Belgium, where police found him after months of tense searching for the men behind the massacres.

The questioning will focus initially on Abdeslam's background and events before the attacks, with prosecutors already establishing that he spent much of his youth as a pot-smoking fan of nightclubs and casinos.

Abdeslam has been unrepentant so far in court, where he has made a series of outbursts and claimed that France "knew the risks" of attacking jihadist targets in Syria as part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

After four months of proceedings, the trial -- the biggest in modern French history, attended by hundreds of plaintiffs and victims' relatives -- has entered a new phase in which the 14 suspects present are to be questioned. 

So far two of Abdeslam's co-defendants have invoked their right to silence.

"When I look at him, it's just a feeling of incomprehension. How could he do what he did, what they did?" Philippe Duperron, whose son was killed when the gunmen stormed the Bataclan concert hall, told France 2 television on Wednesday.

"What could explain it? But once again, I think this trial will end without us being able to understand," said Duperron, who is president of the 13onze15 Fraternite-Verite victims' association ("November 13, 2015, Brotherhood and Truth").

Night of horror

Abdeslam's mother, sister and ex-fiancee are also scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday, though it remains uncertain if they will appear in court or via videoconference.

The horror was unleashed on a Friday night when the first attackers detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where France was playing a football match against Germany. 

A group of gunmen later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants, and Abdeslam's brother Brahim blew himself up in a bar.

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And at the Bataclan, 90 people were massacred by other attackers as they watched a rock concert.

Abdeslam, for his part, discarded his suicide vest and fled the French capital in the chaotic aftermath of the bloodshed, eluding an intense manhunt to return to Molenbeek, the Brussels district where he grew up.

He will return to the stand several times in the coming months as the trial's focus shifts to details of the operational planning of the massacres.

The alleged ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was a prominent French-speaking jihadist in Syria with a past role in several foiled attacks in France.

He was killed in a police raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis a few days after the attacks, with the other attackers also killed by police or dying in the attacks.

Abdeslam's co-defendants are answering charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks, as well as supplying weapons.

The trial, which is expected to last nine months, sees 20 defendants, including Abdeslam, facing sentences of up to life in prison. Six of the suspects are being tried in absentia.