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ISIS suicide bomber from Paris terror attack that killed 130 people is brought to court

A vast security operation swung into operation in Paris today as an intended ISIS suicide bomber who survived the most murderous terrorist attack in the city’s history prepared to appear in court.

Belgian-born French and Moroccan national Salah Abdeslam, 31, is the primary defendant in a case and is the only alleged terrorist who is believed to have taken part in the attacks still alive.

He and 19 other defendants are accused of masterminding co-ordinated attacks on the Bataclan music hall, Stade de France national stadium, and numerous restaurants and bars on November 13, 2015, killing 130 people. 

The suicide bombing and gun assault by three teams of jihadists – planned in Syria and later claimed by the Islamic State group – was the worst postwar atrocity on French territory. 

Most of the defendants, 14 of whom will face the court with six being tried in absentia, face the maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of complicity in the attacks.

A secure modern complex embedded within a historic 13th-century courthouse will play host to the trial – the country’s largest ever criminal trial – which is expected to last nine months.

Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national, has admitted discarding a belt full of explosives rather than blowing himself up on November 13, 2015

A vast security operation swung into operation in Paris today as the trial of 20 men accused of masterminding the November 2015 attacks opened

A vast security operation swung into operation in Paris today as the trial of 20 men accused of masterminding the November 2015 attacks opened 

This morning Abdelsam was removed from his cell at Fleury-Mérogis prison, in the southern Paris suburbs, where he is under 24-hour video surveillance, and transported to the court house (pictured, a police convoy believed to be carrying the defendant)

This morning Abdelsam was removed from his cell at Fleury-Mérogis prison, in the southern Paris suburbs, where he is under 24-hour video surveillance, and transported to the court house (pictured, a police convoy believed to be carrying the defendant)

This morning he was removed from his cell at Fleury-Mérogis prison, in the southern Paris suburbs, where he is under 24-hour video surveillance.

Abdeslam was then driven in an armed convoy to a specially built Assizes in central Paris, where specialist anti-terrorist judges will adjudicate.

‘The prisoner was removed from prison shortly after 9am so as to be driven into central Paris,’ said a police spokesman.

‘There are hundreds of military and police involved in the security operation, both on the journey, and around the court.’

Special Forces officers brandishing machine guns surrounded the prison before motor-cycle outriders led the convoy including a white prison services van containing prisoner number 444806. 

During the 40-minute drive to court, Abdeslam was accompanied by his defence barrister Olivia Ronen, who said ensuring a fair trial was her priority.

‘There’s no compromise possible in defence,’ said Ms Ronen. ‘Whatever the case, we give one hundred per cent. This entails not being afraid of displeasing or shocking people’.

The area around the court was blocked off on Wednesday and armed police with dogs were on patrol ahead of the proceedings, set to begin at 1030 GMT.

‘We are entering the unknown,’ said Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan music venue attack and president of Life for Paris, a victims’ association.

‘We’re eager for it to start but we’re wondering how it’s going to go over the next nine months,’ he said.

The trial will last until May 2022 with 145 days of scheduled hearings involving about 330 lawyers, 300 victims and testimony from former president Francois Hollande in November.

Abdeslam will appear in the dock along with 13 other men who are alleged to have helped with the slaughter, while six others will be tried in absentia.

Five of them are thought to have been killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, while a sixth is in prison in Turkey.

Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national, is already three years into a 20- year-prison sentence for attempted murder. 

This sentence relates to a shoot-out he had with Brussels police before his capture four months after the Paris attacks. He remained largely silent throughout the 2018 trial in Belgium, where he declared on that he put his ‘trust in Allah’ and that the court was biased. 

He now faces multiple life sentences after admitting aborting a suicide bomb mission, though investigators later discovered his explosives belt was defective, and instead returning to his hometown, Brussels, following the attacks. 

He was captured four months later in Brussels, hiding in a building close to his family home. 

A major question is whether he will speak at his scheduled testimony, set for mid-January.

Another focus of the trial will be on how the squad of killers managed to enter France undetected, allegedly using the flow of migrants from Islamic State-controlled regions of Syria as cover.

Fourteen of the accused – who face charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks as well as weapons offences – are expected to be present in court.

They include a Swedish national, Osama Krayem, who Belgian investigators have identified as one of the killers of a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage by IS in early 2015 in Syria. He is also under investigation in Sweden for war crimes.

The alleged coordinator, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by French police northeast of Paris five days after the attacks. Of the six tried in absentia, five are presumed dead, mainly in air strikes in Syria. 

France suffered its most ruthless terror attack in 2015 when three groups of jihadists carried out co-ordinated attacks on the Stade de France national stadium, the Bataclan music hall, and numerous restaurants and bars which left 130 dead and over 350 injured

France suffered its most ruthless terror attack in 2015 when three groups of jihadists carried out co-ordinated attacks on the Stade de France national stadium, the Bataclan music hall, and numerous restaurants and bars which left 130 dead and over 350 injured

Beyond preparing to attack the Stade de France, where France were playing Germany in a football friendly, Abdeslam also allegedly rented cars and hideouts for the ISIS cell.

Abdeslam’s childhood friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was shot dead by police, was the suspected on-the-ground coordinator of the Paris slaughter.

Earlier defence lawyers all quit because of Abdeslam’s reluctance to communicate with them.

Sven Mary, his former counsel in Belgium, said: ‘He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray. He’s extraordinarily vacuous.’

Mr Mary added: ‘I asked him if he had read the Koran, and he replied that he had researched it on the Internet’.

In Paris, Abdeslam faces numerous charges including ‘participating in murders in an organised gang connected to a terrorist enterprise’.

Victims in Paris included Englishman Nick Alexander, 31, from Weeley, Essex, who died in the Bataclan music venue.

Matthieu Chirez, a lawyer for 21 Bataclan survivors from the UK and Ireland, said the trial, which is scheduled to last for nine months, would be ‘a search for the truth’. 

The 13th-century Palais de Justice, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial, has been transformed to accommodate hundreds of people for the trial

The 13th-century Palais de Justice, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial, has been transformed to accommodate hundreds of people for the trial

The specially designed courtroom and associated holding rooms are designed to hold 1,800 victims, 330 lawyers and 141 accredited journalists

The trial is expected to unfold over nine months and will take place in a secure modern complex embedded within a historic 13th century Parisian courthouse

The trial is expected to unfold over nine months and will take place in a secure modern complex embedded within a historic 13th century Parisian courthouse

A secure modern complex embedded within a historic 13th-century courthouse will play host to the trial – the country’s largest ever criminal trial – which is expected to last nine months. 

Survivors of the attacks as well as those who mourn their dead are expected to pack the court rooms, which were designed to hold over 1,800 plaintiffs and 350 lawyers.

Among the plantiffs are nearly 1,800 victims, including survivors who suffered physical or psychological harm and families whose loved ones died that night, with a total of 330 lawyers involved in the case.

The 13th-century Palais de Justice, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial, has been transformed to accommodate hundreds of people, while recording equipment has been installed to provide live broadcasts of the proceedings throughout the court, including an audio link that can be accessed live from home by victims’ families, albeit with a 30 minute delay.

The month of September will be dedicated to laying out the police and forensic evidence. October will be given over to victims’ testimony. From November to December, officials including former French President Francois Hollande will testify, as will relatives of the attackers.

Abdeslam will be questioned multiple times. He has so far refused to talk to investigators.

None of the proceedings will be televised or rebroadcast for the public, but it will be recorded for archival purposes. Cameras are restricted to filming outside the trial room, as video recording is illegal in French courts.

Court recordings have only been allowed for a handful of extremely high-profile cases considered to be of historical value, such as the trials of Nazi officials and collaborators including Klaus Barbie, Rwandan officials involved in the Tutsi genocide and figures linked to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The most recent recorded court proceedings were last year, for the January 2015 attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and a kosher supermarket. 

Brahim Abdeslam, the brother of defendant Salah Abdeslam, holds a rifle in front of La Belle Equipe restaurant in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. Brahim detonated his suicide vest after gunning down dozens of French civilians

Brahim Abdeslam, the brother of defendant Salah Abdeslam, holds a rifle in front of La Belle Equipe restaurant in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. Brahim detonated his suicide vest after gunning down dozens of French civilians

The attacks in 2015 are the biggest in French history outside of the attacks that took place during WWII

The attacks in 2015 are the biggest in French history outside of the attacks that took place during WWII

How will the nine-month terror trial unfold? 

The trial, which is the biggest in French history, is expected to last until May 2022 and has been broken down into several stages.

  • September 2021: Police and forensic evidence will be given
  • October 2021: Victims of the terror attacks will give their testimonies
  • November – December 2021: Officials including former French President François Hollande will testify, as will relatives of the attackers
  • January – March 2022: Each of the defendants will be questioned following the chronology of the events, from the preparations to the attacks and their aftermath. Main defendant Salah Abdeslam will be questioned multiple times
  • April 2022: Experts will give psychological assessments
  • May 2022: Closing arguments will be given by both sides before a final verdict is delivered at the end of the month

Twenty men are going on trial from Wednesday, six of them in absentia. 

Most of the men who face trial are accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers back to Europe from Syria, providing them with money and phones, and supplying explosives and weapons, while five of the six absent defendants are presumed dead.

Salah Abdeslam meanwhile is the main defendant and will face rigorous questioning over a period of three months.

Abdeslam is charged with murder, and is the only allegedly terrorist who carried out the attacks firsthand thought to be alive. 

His brother, Brahim Abdeslam, detonated his suicide vest after gunning down dozens of French civilians with automatic weapons. 

Abdeslam was finally arrested in his Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek in March 2016 after four months on the run, days before the IS network of which he was a part attacked the Brussels airport and metro, killing another 32 people.  

Security at the courthouse is expected to be significant.

The courthouse is on the island at the centre of Paris, around which all driving, parking and even pedestrian traffic will be blocked from most of the surrounding streets and along the banks of the River Seine.

There will be different entries for different parties to the case, who will undergo searches each time they enter the building, with multiple checkpoints being set up to ensure the maximum level of security. 

The horror was unleashed late on the night of Friday, November 13, when jihadists detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where Hollande was in the crowd watching France play a football match against Germany. A single person was killed there.

A group of Islamist gunmen, including Abdeslam’s brother Brahim, later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants, which were packed on the balmy autumn evening.

The massacre culminated at the Bataclan music venue. Three jihadists stormed in during a performance, killing 90 people. 

Philippe Duperron, whose 30-year-old son was fatally wounded in the Bataclan and is president of the victims’ association 13onze15, said he hoped the trial would ‘give a voice to all those who are no longer there’.

‘A wave of emotion will surge up and things will come to the surface that will hit even those who have chosen to keep a distance, like some of the victims,’ Duperron told AFP.

France was hit by a spate of ‘lone wolf’ jihadist attacks last year and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 1,000 police would be on duty to ensure security.


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