Trial of 20 men accused over 2015 Paris attacks begins

Security forces outside the Palais de Justice in Paris (Francois Mori/AP) (AP)
13:57pm, Wed 08 Sep 2021
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The trial of 20 men accused in the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s 2015 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured has begun.

Nine gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes of each other at France’s national football stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and Paris restaurants and cafes on November 13 2015.

The defendants were taken one-by-one into a glass-enclosed box at the side of the courtroom, surrounded by armed officers.

Police officers guard the Palais de Justice where the trial is being held (Michel Euler/AP) (AP)

Survivors of the attacks, as well as those mourning the dead, packed the rooms, which are designed to hold 1,800 complainants and more than 300 lawyers.

The lone survivor of the extremist cell from that night, Salah Abdeslam, is the key defendant and appeared wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and black trousers.

The defendants were called in alphabetical order, and Abdeslam – who was first – was asked to identify himself.

Requested to state his profession, Abdeslam – the only defendant charged with murder – said his “ambition is to become a fighter for Islamic State”.

The same IS network went on to strike Brussels months later, killing a further 32 people.

Lawyers and others arrive at the courtroom (Thibault Camus/AP) (AP)

The presiding judge, Jean-Louis Peries, acknowledged the extraordinary circumstances of the events of that night and the nine-month trial to come.

“The events that we are about to decide are inscribed in their historic intensity as among the international and national events of this century,” he said.

Dominique Kielemoes, whose son bled to death at one of the cafes that night, said the month dedicated to victims’ testimonies at the trial would be crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation.

“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people. But it wasn’t a mass – these were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations, and that we need to talk about at the trial. It’s important,” she said.

Twenty men are charged, but six of them will be tried in their absence.

The Bataclan concert hall in Paris was attacked (Thibault Camus/AP) (AP)

Abdeslam, who abandoned his rental car in northern Paris and discarded a malfunctioning suicide vest before fleeing home to Brussels, has refused to speak with investigators.

The modern courtroom was constructed within the 13th century Palais de Justice in Paris, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial, among others.

The trial is scheduled to last nine months, with September dedicated to laying out the police and forensic evidence. October will be given over to victims’ testimony, while over November and December, officials including former French president Francois Hollande will testify, as will relatives of the attackers.

The attacks transformed France which declared a state of emergency that night and now has armed officers patrolling public spaces. And it changed forever the lives of all those who suffered losses or bore witness to the violence that night.

“Our ability to be carefree is gone,” Ms Kielemoes said.

“The desire to go out, travel – all of that’s gone. Even if we still do a number of things, our appetite for life has disappeared.”

People gathered at the Le Carillon cafe in Paris following the attacks (Jerome Delay/AP) (AP)

For Jean-Luc Wertenschlag, who lives above the cafe where her son died and who rushed downstairs soon after the first gunshots to try and save lives, it has changed the way he moves around the city where he was born and raised. He never leaves home without the first aid gear he lacked that night, when he ripped off his shirt to stanch a victim’s bleeding.

“What we did that evening with other people, to provide assistance to the people wounded during the attack, was a way to stand against what these monsters had tried to do to us,” he said.

Among those scheduled to testify is former president Mr Hollande, who was at the Stade de France at the moment it was attacked and who gave the final order to police special forces to storm the Bataclan.

Mr Hollande said on Wednesday that he would speak “not for the sake of French politics, but for the victims of the attacks”.

He said he felt the weight of responsibility keenly that night and for the days and weeks later in the aftermath of the attack.

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