Paris (AP) – The air is charged with tension and the memory of the night of terror of six years ago is at hand when Salah Abdeslam speaks in the Parisian courtroom.
He is considered one of the main perpetrators and the sole survivor of the terrorist squad that killed 130 people, injured 350 and traumatized the whole country in a series of Islamist attacks in the French capital. In his first words at the start of the trial on Wednesday at the Paris courthouse, when it comes to his personal details, he admits to being a fighter in the terrorist Islamic State (IS) militia. This is his job.
Surrounded by police officers and behind armored glass, he can no longer cause physical damage. He doesn’t seem to want to cooperate, is stubborn and refuses simple information about his parents. However, he cannot upset the court with this.
Security measures, already enormous in France due to terrorist threats, have been reopened for the “Bataclan” process. Nearly 1,000 police officers secure the proceedings, the courthouse is cordoned off and surrounded by special forces. The state is showing strength.
The image in the interior is completely different. The light-wood conference room with white benches exudes an almost sterile calm. It was specially prepared for the event entitled “Trial of the Century” in the French press. There are a total of 550 people, and at the start of the trial, a large part of the room was occupied by the lawyers’ black robes. Relatives and those affected can find psychological support in the room itself and at the courthouse. Transmission rooms have also been created for those who do not wish to be in the negotiation room or who cannot find more room.
130 people shot dead and 350 others injured
During the series of attacks of November 13, 2015, extremists shot dead 130 people and injured 350 others in the “Bataclan” concert hall as well as in bars and restaurants. That same evening, three suicide bombers blew themselves up during an international football match between Germany and France at the Stade de France. ISIS claimed responsibility for itself.
20 suspects are now indicted in the trial for the attacks. Abdeslam (31) is the center of attention. 13 other defendants are accused of supporting the terrorist unit. They would have obtained papers, driven Abdeslam out of the country or, in two cases, prevented the bombers.
Six other defendants are tried in absentia. Five of them are said to have died in Syria in the meantime, and one is imprisoned in Turkey for terrorism. The majority of the defendants face 20 years or more in prison as part of the trial, which is due to run until May 2022. Abdeslam was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium for shooting at police shortly before his arrest.
The process has been one of the most important topics of conversation in France for days. Many survivors recounted the barely comprehensible horror they experienced and their difficult search for a life after it.
Gaëlle (39), for example, explained to the newspaper “Le Parisien” how she was lying on the ground in the “Bataclan”, hit by Kalashnikov bullets in the arm and face. “It took a while, I started hallucinating as my consciousness faded. I saw my son in front of me who said: Mom, you have to get up. I didn’t want him to lose me. I had only one worry: that everything would explode. ”Finally, a policeman took her out of the lobby and she first lay on the floor of a restaurant with other seriously injured people. took 40 operations to reconstruct half of her face which had been shattered to date – her friend Mathieu, who had accompanied her, never came out of the room alive.
Yolande Meaud lost in the night of terror her twins Charlotte and Emilie, both aged 29, shot dead on the terrace of the “Carillon” café. “I want the hidden truths to be revealed and find out if there are any weaknesses in the structures of the state. I assume it ”, she declared at the beginning of the procedure to the broadcaster France Bleu. “The process is one thing, but of course it’s not the end of the pain you feel.” She thinks of her daughters once a year when she goes to the terrace of the cafe where they died.
In particular in view of the enormous suffering suffered by the people concerned, the president of the tribunal Jean-Louis Périès speaks at the start of an extraordinary and historic trial. The setting alone is impressive. The process, intensively prepared for months, brings together more than 1,700 co-complainants. The first two days of the trial are therefore devoted to reading their names. Later, around 300 victims and their relatives are supposed to recount their experiences, and then French President François Hollande is among hundreds of witnesses invited. Despite the huge numbers, the process will only partially heal the wounds that terrorism has left in the soul of France.