Paris terror trial opens for 20 defendants in 2015 attacks – News-Herald
By LORI HINNANT and NICOLAS VAUX-MONTAGNY
PARIS – The trial of 20 men accused in a series of coordinated attacks against Paris in 2015 that sowed fear across Europe and transformed France opened on Wednesday in a custom-built complex integrated into a courthouse from the 13th century.
Nine gunmen from the Islamic State group and suicide bombers shot down minutes apart in several locations around Paris on November 13, 2015, killing 130 and injuring hundreds. It was the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II and one of the worst terrorist attacks to hit the West.
The worst carnage took place at the Bataclan concert hall, where three men armed with assault rifles shot dozens of people and took a handful of hostages. Others targeted the national football stadium, where the president was attending a game, as well as cafes filled with people on a balmy autumn night.
The only attacker surviving that night, Salah Abdeslam, is the main defendant – but he has so far refused to speak to investigators, refusing them to answer many remaining questions about the attacks and the people who planned them. . Abdeslam, whose brother was among the suicide bombers, appeared wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and black pants, his long hair tied back.
When asked to indicate his profession, he said he was “an Islamic State fighter” after intoning a prayer.
Abdeslam, who fled the night of the attacks after abandoning his car and a faulty suicide vest, is the only accused charged with murder. The other defendants present face lesser terrorism charges.
The president of the tribunal, Jean-Louis Peries, recognized the extraordinary nature of the attacks, which changed security in Europe and the French political landscape, and the upcoming trial. France only emerged from the state of emergency decreed following the 2017 attacks after having incorporated many of the most severe measures into law.
“The events that we are about to decide are inscribed in their historical intensity as among the international and national events of this century,” he declared.
Dominique Kielemoes, whose son died of blood in one of the cafes, said hearing the victims’ testimonies during the trial will be crucial for both their own healing and that of the nation.
“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were shooting at the crowd, at a mass of people. But it was not a mass – they were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations, and whom we have to talk about at the trial. It’s important, ”she said.
Of the 20 men charged, six will be tried in absentia. Abdeslam will be questioned multiple times – but it remains to be seen whether he will break his silence beyond the type of allegiance he offered to Islamic State groups on Wednesday.
“We were expecting it and we were prepared for it and in fact we don’t expect anything from him,” Kielemoes said after Abdeslam’s first appearance.
The same IS network that struck Paris then struck Brussels months later, killing 32 more.
Authorities must make extraordinary efforts to ensure the safety of the trial, building a brand new courtroom in the 13th-century Palais de Justice in Paris, where Marie-Antoinette and Emile Zola were tried, among others.
Survivors of the attacks as well as those mourning their dead on Wednesday filled the rooms of the complex, designed to accommodate 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers.
For the first time, victims can also have a secure audio link to listen to from their homes if they wish, within 30 minutes.
The trial is expected to last nine months. The month of September will be devoted to the establishment of police and forensic evidence. October will be devoted to the testimony of the victims. From November to December, officials, including then French President François Hollande – who was at the Stade de France on the evening of the attacks – will testify, as well as relatives of the attackers.
France changed after that night: authorities immediately declared a state of emergency and now have armed officers constantly patrolling public spaces. The attacks sparked introspection among the French and Europeans more broadly since most of the perpetrators were born and raised in France or Belgium. And it has forever transformed the lives of all who have suffered loss or witnessed violence.
“Our ability to be carefree is gone,” Kielemoes said. “The desire to go out, to travel, it’s all gone. Even though we still do a number of things, our appetite for life is gone.
For Jean-Luc Wertenschlag, who lives above the cafe where his son died and who rushed downstairs shortly after the first shots in an attempt to save lives, it even changed the way he got around the city where he was born and raised. He never leaves home without the first aid supplies he lacked that night when he ripped off his shirt to stop a victim’s bleeding.
“What we did that evening with other people, to assist those injured in the attack, was a way of resisting what these monsters had tried to do to us,” he said. declared.
Among those who were to testify figure Hollande, who in addition to being present at one of the attack scenes gave the final order to the special police forces to storm the Bataclan.
Hollande said on Wednesday he would speak “not for the sake of French policy, but for the victims of the attacks.” He said he had deeply felt the weight of the responsibility that night and for the days and weeks later.
“When the cameras are off, you return to the solitude of the Elysee (presidential palace),” Hollande told France-Info. “You ask what can I do? … Will what just happened change society?
None of the proceedings will be televised or rebroadcast to the public, but will be recorded for archival purposes. Video recording has only been allowed for a handful of cases in France considered to be of historical value, including last year’s trial for the 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and a kosher supermarket.
Associated Press reporters Angela Charlton, Alex Turnbull, and Catherine Gaschka contributed to this report.