Friday, September 17

Key Defendant in 2015 Paris Bombings Says Deaths of 130 “ Nothing Personal ”

The key defendant in 2015 Paris The attack trial said on Wednesday that the coordinated killings were in retaliation for French airstrikes against the Islamic State group, calling the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal” as it acknowledged their role for the first time.

Salah Abdeslam, who wore all black and refused to remove his mask while speaking in a custom-built courtroom, has remained silent throughout the investigation.

Observers were waiting to see if he would offer any details during the trial.

A court sketch shows key defendant Salah Abdeslam, right, and Mohammed Abrini in the special courtroom built for the 2015 Paris attacks trial. (AP)
Lawyers and participants arrive at the special courtroom in Paris. (AP)

Nine gunmen from the Islamic State group and suicide bombers attacked within minutes of each other at various locations around Paris on November 13, 2015, targeting fans at the national football stadium and attendees at cafes and ending with a bath. of blood inside the Bataclan concert hall.

It was the deadliest violence to hit France since World War II and one of the worst terrorist attacks in the West, shaking the country’s sense of security and rewriting its politics.

Abdeslam is the sole survivor of that cell, most of whose members were French or Belgian. After his suicide vest malfunctioned the night of the attacks, he fled to his hometown of Brussels.

Police forces guard the special courtroom for the trial of 20 men accused in the attacks by the Islamic State group in 2015 in Paris. (AP)
People gather in front of Cafe Le Carillon, a site of the Paris attacks. (AP)

On Wednesday, a screen in the courtroom showed a photo of the car that Abdeslam abandoned in northern Paris after dropping off the three suicide bombers at the national stadium. Abdeslam’s target was unclear, but when Islamic State claimed responsibility the next day, the statement alluded to an attack in the neighborhood where he left the car that never took place.

The two people Abdeslam called to drive overnight from Brussels to Paris to pick him up are among the 20 people on trial. Six of them are being tried in absentia.

Abdeslam, who was arrested months after the attacks, said the attacks were a response to French airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. France was among the international coalition that was formed when extremists conquered vast territory in both countries.

Security forces guard an entrance to the Palace of Justice in Paris. (AP)
Tributes of flowers and candles are placed at Le Carillon Restaurant in Paris after the 2015 attacks. (AP)

“We fought against France, we attacked France, we targeted the civilian population. It was nothing personal against them,” Abdeslam said. “I know my statement may be shocking, but it is not to drive the knife deeper into the wound, but to be honest with those who are suffering immeasurable pain.”

The same network attacked the Brussels airport and metro system in March 2016, killing another 32 people. Among those tried in Paris is Mohammed Abrini, who left the city the night before the 2015 attack and participated in the Brussels attack. He recognized a role Wednesday.

“I acknowledge my participation … (but) in this evil that happened in France, I am not the commander or the architect. I did not provide logistical or financial help,” said Abrini.

A bird flies in front of the Eiffel Tower, which remained closed for the first of three days of national mourning in Paris after the 2015 attacks. (AP)

The specter of the man who was the architect of the attacks, the late Abdelhamid Abaaoud, loomed large in the early days of the trial.

The courtroom saw him on video escaping to the subway. An investigator testified that he was on the phone with the attackers and someone in Brussels during the assaults.

Salah Abdeslam, wanted in connection with the Paris attacks. (AP)

Counterterrorism investigators saw Abaaoud on surveillance video walking towards the Paris metro with another of the gunmen. Abaaoud was recognized by his fluorescent orange shoes, and it was a pivotal moment in the case.

“As soon as we see this video, everything changes because we realize that there are still at least two terrorists alive,” the investigator testified. His name was not made public, as is common in French counter-terrorism trials.

Abaaoud and the remaining gunman were killed days later in a police shootout and a suicide explosion.

The same investigator also testified about the devastation officials felt as the attacks unfolded.

“The feeling we had that night at the Bataclan was one of failure … I’m not sure we had the means to avoid it all. But when we entered the Bataclan that was the feeling,” he said.

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