| 21 May 2024, Tuesday |

Paris attacks trial disrupted after main defendant defies judge

The main suspect in the 2015 Islamist attack that killed 130 people in Paris disrupted the trial for a second consecutive day on Thursday to make political statements from the dock, prompting the judge to briefly suspend the hearing.

Salah Abdeslam, 31, is believed by prosecutors to be the only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that carried out the gun-and-bomb attacks on bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and the Stade de France stadium on Nov. 13, 2015.

The presiding judge granted him the right to speak in a discussion about which victims’ representatives would be allowed to participate in the trial.

Abdeslam asked whether the victims of wars in Syria and Iraq would also be invited to testify, and alleged that he and his fellow defendants were being treated as if they had already been found guilty.

He also said that some of his co-accused – those suspected of helping him get back to Brussels, where he is from, after the attacks – were not involved in the Paris attack plot, and had only helped him out of generosity because they were his friends.

Judge Jean-Louis Peries repeatedly told Abdeslam that he was straying off the topic of the hearing, and eventually cut off his microphone.

“Let me remind you that you have had five years to explain yourself and you said nothing,” Peries told Abdeslam, referring to the time police and magistrates spent investigating the attacks and preparing the trial.

Abdeslam would be welcome to speak later in the proceedings, Peries said, adding: “Now is not the moment, this is a technical debate.”

Abdeslam continued to talk after that, and the judge ordered a suspension of the hearing. It resumed about 25 minutes later.

On the opening day of the trial on Wednesday, Abdeslam told the court he was a soldier of Islamic State, the ultra-radical militant group, and later shouted out in the courtroom that he and his co-defendants were being treated like dogs. read more

Some representatives of victims and survivors of the 2015 attacks have said they expected such outbursts and were doing their best to ignore him. Others expressed dismay that Abdeslam was using the trial as a platform to express his views.

“It’s very hard for the victims to hear those kinds of statements,” said lawyer Catherine Szwarc, who represents seven victims.

Gaetan Honore, 44, who was in the Bataclan theatre on the night of the attacks and managed to escape unhurt, said he wondered how Abdeslam “can hang on to that kind of attitude, with the victims (in the courtroom).”

The start of the trial, “which was meant to be technical, is rich in emotions, and not necessary pleasant emotions,” he said. “This will last nine months. It will be quite a challenge.”

Victim testimonies are set to begin on Sept. 28. Questioning of the accused will start in November but they are not set to testify about the night of the attacks until March. The verdict is expected in late May 2022.

  • Reuters