An ISIS suicide bomber who survived the 2015 Paris terror attacks had his microphone switched off in court in September after multiple outbursts.
A judge told Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of a group of assailants who killed 130 people: ‘You’ve had five years to comment,’ after the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State soldier’ disrupted proceedings with rants about Syria and claims some of the co-accused were innocent.
Abdeslam, 31, went on trial with 19 others in September last year over the November 13, 2015 suicide bombing and gun assaults on bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and the national stadium.
He claimed that three of the co-accused in what is the biggest trial in the history of modern France, were not aware of the plot.
‘They helped me but they knew nothing at all,’ he said regarding the attacks. ‘They are in prison but did nothing,’ the French-Moroccan dual national added before the presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries cut off his microphone and suspended the hearing.
It was the second outburst by Abdeslam, who on the first day of the landmark trial had launched into a diatribe about how he and his co-accused were being treated ‘like dogs’ in prison.
Meanwhile, he interrupted while the court was considering the admissibility of complaints brought by certain plaintiffs in the case.
Salah Abdeslam (depicted centre in black), an ISIS suicide bomber who survived the 2015 Paris terror attacks, had his microphone switched off in court after multiple outbursts
Abdeslam has admitted discarding a belt full of explosives rather than blowing himself up on November 13, 2015 [File photo]
‘The victims from Syria and Iraq – will they be able to speak?,’ Abseslam asked.
‘In principle, we should be presumed innocent before being judged… even if I do not endorse your justice,’ he said.
‘Let’s leave this discussion, Mr. Abdeslam’, replied the judge. ‘Sir – don’t be selfish. There are other people who want to hear me,’ Abdeslam retorted.
Abdeslam’s outbursts in court have sharply contrasted with his refusal over the last year to give any statements to investigators, always remaining silent.
Peries commented: ‘You have had five years to comment, you did not wish to make statements – as is your right. I understood now that you wanted to speak, and that’s fine – but now is not the time.’
The trial, which is expected to last nine months, is the biggest in France’s modern legal history and sees the 20 defendants facing sentences of up to life in prison, including Abdeslam. Six of the suspects are being tried in absentia.
Abdeslam’s apparent desire to steal the limelight risks becoming a major headache for the court as it seeks to use the next sessions to set up the marathon process and prepare for the testimony of survivors and relatives of the dead from September 28.
‘This is offensive to the victims, it is shocking the impact that these remarks have on the victims,’ said lawyer Samia Maktouf, who represents 40 plaintiffs in the trial.
On the first day, Abdeslam stated his Islamic faith when asked to identify himself and then replied that he was a ‘fighter for the Islamic State’ when asked for his profession.
‘Here it is very beautiful, there are flat screens, air conditioning but there [in prison] we are mistreated,’ he alleged.
Peries, the presiding judge, responded: ‘I have been to see you in prison, I have seen your cell.’
The exchange came after Farid Kharkhach, a co-defendant who is accused of providing fake papers to the ISIS cell, fainted.
His lawyers said this happened on a stifling hot day after Kharkhach ‘underwent two strip searches’ before entering court.
As the session drew to a close, Abdeslam screamed at the panel of judges that he would be ‘resurrected’ after death and testified that there was ‘no god except Allah’.
He ranted: ‘I’ve been treated like a dog for more than six years, but I say nothing because I know that after death I will be resurrected!’
Abdeslam was captured in Brussels after allegedly discarding his suicide vest and fleeing the French capital in the chaotic aftermath of the bloodshed on Friday, November 13, 2015.
The horror was unleashed late, when the first attackers detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where then-President Francois Hollande was watching France play a football match against Germany that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also attending.
A group of gunmen later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants and Abdeslam’s brother Brahim blew himself up in a bar.
The massacre culminated at the Bataclan, where 90 people mostly in their 20s and 30s were massacred as they watched a rock concert.
Security is tight around the courthouse with nearly 1,000 police officers mobilised to provide protection around the court during the trial
Hundreds of police were stationed at the courthouse in Paris ahead of the opening of the trial
The specially designed courtroom and associated holding rooms are designed to hold 1,800 victims, 330 lawyers and 141 accredited journalists
Abdeslam has been in prison for six years following his arrest and has spent most of that time in isolation, while surveillance cameras watch him for 24 hours a day.
The trial will last until May 2022 with 145 days of scheduled hearings involving about 330 lawyers, 300 victims, and will include testimony in November from Hollande.
The trial is being held in a secure modern complex embedded within a historic 13th-century courthouse.
None of the proceedings will be televised or rebroadcast for the public, but it will be recorded for archival purposes. Cameras are restricted to filming outside the trial room, as video recording is illegal in French courts.
Court recordings have only been allowed for a handful of extremely high-profile cases considered to be of historical value, such as the trials of Nazi officials and collaborators including Klaus Barbie, Rwandan officials involved in the Tutsi genocide and figures linked to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The most recent recorded court proceedings were in 2020, for the January 2015 attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and a kosher supermarket.
Nearly 1,000 police officers were mobilised to provide protection around the court during the trial amid heightened threat of terror attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Wednesday.
Abdeslam, who was born in Belgium, is already three years into a 20- year-prison sentence for attempted murder.
This sentence relates to a shoot-out he had with Brussels police before his capture four months after the Paris attacks.
He remained largely silent throughout the 2018 trial in Belgium, where he declared that he put his ‘trust in Allah’ and that the court was biased.
He now faces multiple life sentences after admitting aborting a suicide bomb mission, though investigators later discovered his explosives belt was defective, and instead returning to his hometown, Brussels, following the attacks.
He was captured four months later in the city, hiding in a building close to his family home.
Another focus of the trial will be on how the squad of killers managed to enter France undetected, allegedly using the flow of migrants from Islamic State-controlled regions of Syria as cover.
Fourteen of the accused – who face charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks as well as weapons offences – are expected to be present in court.
They include a Swedish national, Osama Krayem, who Belgian investigators have identified as one of the killers of a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage by IS in early 2015 in Syria. He is also under investigation in Sweden for war crimes.
On November 13, 2015, gunmen and suicide bombers hit the Stade de France, Bataclan concert venue, bars and restaurants in Paris, killing 130 people [File photo]
The attacks in 2015 are the most devastating peacetime in French history [File photo]
Victims and survivors of the November 13 attacks have been in the courtroom on Wednesday and Thursday [File photo]
The alleged coordinator, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by French police northeast of Paris five days after the attacks. Of the six tried in absentia, five are presumed dead, mainly in air strikes in Syria, with the final member believed to be in a Turkish prison.
Beyond preparing to attack the Stade de France, where France were playing Germany in a football friendly, Abdeslam also allegedly rented cars and hideouts for the ISIS cell.
Abdeslam’s childhood friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was shot dead by police, was the suspected on-the-ground coordinator of the Paris slaughter.
Earlier defence lawyers all quit because of Abdeslam’s reluctance to communicate with them.
Sven Mary, his former counsel in Belgium, said: ‘He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray. He’s extraordinarily vacuous.’
Mr Mary added: ‘I asked him if he had read the Quran, and he replied that he had researched it on the Internet’.
Survivors and the families of victims described on Wednesday the experience of seeing Abdeslam in court.
Jean-Pierre Albertini, whose 39-year old son, Stephane, was killed in the Bataclan, told Reuters the reference to being an Islamic State soldier meant ‘we have in front of us … someone who is at war.’
Thierry Mallet, a Bataclan survivor, said: ‘I need more to be shocked … I’m not afraid.’
‘We are entering the unknown,’ said Arthur Denouveaux, another Bataclan survivor and president of Life for Paris, a victims’ association.
‘We’re eager for it to start but we’re wondering how it’s going to go over the next nine months,’ he said.
The defendants’ defence lawyers have warned the trial should not be swayed by emotion, despite the ‘suffering the events have caused’.
Defendant Yassine Atar’s lawyer told reporters as he entered court on Wednesday: ‘I agreed to defend a man… we see the security measures, the crowd, we understand the expectation around this trial.
‘But as defence lawyers’, he warned, ‘we need to stay the course and not get caught up in this environment… the main challenge is that emotion does not win the day and that we can keep the trial fair.’
Meanwhile Oliver Morice, a lawyer representing 35 families of victims, called for the suspects to face the toughest possible sentences, if convicted.
Attendees were asked to go through security gates and present passes at every corner of the building amid heightened fears of potential attacks.