Paris – The main suspect in a jihadist attack that killed 130 people across Paris was defiantly described on Wednesday as “an Islamic State soldier”, upsetting some survivors who viewed him as a threat early in the trial. for the 2015 attacks.
Salah Abdeslam, 31, appeared in court dressed in black and wearing a black mask. He is one of 20 men accused of participating in the weapons and bomb attacks on six restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium on November 13, 2015.
Asked about his profession, the French-Moroccan removed his mask and told a Paris court: “I quit my job to become an Islamic State soldier.”
He is believed to be the only living member of the group that carried out the attacks. The other suspects are accused of having helped provide weapons and cars or organize the attacks, which also injured hundreds.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it had urged its followers to attack France for its involvement in fighting the militant group in Iraq and Syria.
Victor Edou, a lawyer for eight Bataclan survivors, said Abdeslam’s statement was “very violent.”
“Some of my clients are not doing very well … after hearing a statement that they took as a new direct threat,” he said. “It’s going to be like this for nine months.”
Others said they were trying not to attach much importance to Abdeslam’s comments.
“I need more to shock me […] I’m not scared, “said Thierry Mallet, a Bataclan survivor.
When asked by the chief judge of the court to give his name, Abdeslam used the Shahada, an Islamic oath, saying: “I want to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his servant.”
Other defendants limited themselves to giving their names and professions.
Before the trial, the survivors and relatives of the victims had said they were eager to hear testimony that could help them better understand what happened and why it happened.
“It is important that the victims can give testimony, can tell the pain to the perpetrators, to the suspects who are on the stand,” said Philippe Duperron, whose 30-year-old son Thomas was killed in the attacks.
“We also look forward to it because we know that as this trial unfolds, the pain, the facts, everything will surface again.”
The trial is expected to last nine months, with about 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers implicated in what Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti called an unprecedented judicial marathon. The court’s chief judge, Jean-Louis Peries, said it was a landmark trial.
Eleven of the 20 defendants are already in jail awaiting trial and six will be tried in absentia as most of them are believed to be dead. Most face life in prison if convicted.
The police mounted a strong security device around the Palais de Justice, in the center of Paris. The defendants appeared behind a reinforced glass partition in a purpose-built room and all persons must pass through various checkpoints to enter the court.
Is the jihadist problem in Europe an internal or external threat?“The terrorist threat in France is high, especially at times like the trial of the attacks,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Inter radio.
The first days of the trial are expected to be largely procedural. The testimonies of the victims will begin on September 28.
Interrogations of the accused will begin in November, but they are not scheduled to be questioned about the night of the attacks and the week before until March.
A verdict is not expected before the end of May, but Gaetan Honore, 40, a Bataclan survivor, said being there early on was important.
“It was important to be here the first day, symbolically. I hope to understand, in some way, how this could happen,” he said.