Sole surviving 2015 Paris attacks suspect apologises to victims, asks for forgiveness
The sole surviving member of the jihadist team that carried out the November 2015 Paris attacks apologised on Friday to the victims at the end of his trial testimony.
The comments marked a dramatic end to three days of testimony by Salah Abdeslam, who in the initial stages of the trial had maintained a rigid silence apart from occasional outbursts against the court.
The attackers killed 130 people in suicide bombings and shootings at the Stade de France stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and on street terraces of bars and restaurants on November 13, 2015, in France's worst peacetime atrocity.
"I wish to express my condolences and offer an apology to all the victims," Abdeslam told the court in a sometimes tearful statement.
"I know that hatred remains. I ask you today that you hate me with moderation," he said, adding: "I ask you to forgive me".
Abdeslam, the main trial suspect after the other jihadists were all killed during or in the wake of the attacks, has said he had planned to blow himself up in a crowded bar but stopped after seeing the people whom he was about to kill.
If convicted, he faces life in prison.
One of his defence lawyers, Olivia Ronen, asked him during cross-examination if he regretted not carrying out his plan until the end.
"I don't regret it. I didn't kill these people and I didn't die," he replied.
"I would like to say today that this story of November 13 was written with the blood of the victims. It is their story, and I was part of it," he added.
"They are linked to me and I am linked to them," he said in a quivering voice, before issuing his apology.
Addressing the wounded and those who lost loved ones: "I know this (the apology) is not going to heal you.
"But if it can do you any good, if I could do any good for one of the victims, then for me it's a victory."
Victims and the loved ones of those who died cautiously welcomed his statement, emphasising they were surprised and saying it needed further reflection.
"It's a surprise," said a visibly shaken Georges Salines, whose daughter was killed at the Bataclan. "It's important that he asks (for forgiveness). We will go and reflect."
Cedric, who survived the attacks and did not give his last name, said he thought Abdeslam was "sincere" while adding he found his character "paradoxical".
But Gerard Chemla, a lawyer representing some 100 victims, denounced what he said was a carefully-constructed statement where Abdeslam "cried for himself and his friends but not the victims".
"Everyone has their own interpretation of this testimony and their analysis of these tears. But neither my clients nor I were moved by this exercise in style," he said.
Earlier in the day, a lawyer for the civil parties asked Abdeslam how he wanted to be remembered.
"I don't want people to remember me," Abdeslam replied. "I want to be forgotten forever, I didn't choose to be who I am today."
The trial is the biggest in modern French history, with hundreds of plaintiffs.
After surviving the attack, Abdeslam fled to the Molenbeek district of Brussels where he grew up but was captured in March 2016.
Alongside Abdeslam, co-defendants are answering charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks, as well as supplying weapons.
Abdeslam also addressed three other accused who are charged with helping him flee the scene.
He asked them for "forgiveness" and added: "I did not want to drag them into this".
The trial, which is expected to last until early summer, sees 20 defendants, including Abdeslam, facing sentences of up to life in prison. Six of the suspects are being tried in absentia.