Paris attacks suspect tells court he is ‘a soldier of Islamic State’

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Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has told a court he is “a soldier of Islamic State”.

Abdeslam is among 20 men on trial accused of being involved in the 2015 atrocities at the Bataclan music theatre and other venues.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorist attacks, which took place on 13 November 2015, killed 130 people and injured hundreds more.

The car, left, carrying Salah Abdeslam arrives at the Palace of Justice Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Paris. France is putting on trial 20 men accused in the Islamic State group's 2015 attacks on Paris that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured. The proceedings begin Wednesday in an enormous custom-designed chamber. Most of the defendants face the maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of complicity in the attacks. Only Abdeslam is charged with murder.  
PIC:AP
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The car, left, carrying Salah Abdeslam arrives at the Palace of Justice

Nine gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes of each other at France’s national football stadium, the Bataclan concert hall, and restaurants and cafes in the city.

Police secured the area near the courthouse, on the Ile de la Cite, during the arrival of a convoy believed to be carrying the defendants, and a heavy security presence remains in place.

The alleged lone survivor of the IS group, Abdeslam, is expected to be the key defendant in the trial and is the only one charged with murder.

French Gendarmes secure near the Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite France during the arrival of a convoy believed to be carrying the defendants who stand trial over Paris' November 2015 attacks, in Paris
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French Gendarmes secure near the Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite

The same IS network went on to strike Brussels months later, killing another 32 people.

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Abdeslam, who abandoned his rental car in northern Paris and allegedly discarded a malfunctioning suicide vest before fleeing home to Brussels, has refused to speak to investigators.

He will be questioned several times throughout the trial, which is expected to last around nine months.

The 31-year-old arrived in court on Wednesday, dressed in black, and was seated behind a reinforced glass partition in the purpose-built courtroom.

He is thought to hold the answers to key questions about the attacks and the people who planned them, both in Europe and abroad.

People arrive for the start of the trial of the Paris' November 2015 attacks at the Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite, in Paris, France, September 8, 2021. Twenty defendants stand trial over Paris' November 2015 attacks from September 8, 2021 to May 25, 2022, with nearly 1,800 civil parties, more than 300 lawyers, hundreds of journalists and large-scale security challenges. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
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People arrive for the start of the trial of the Paris’ November 2015 attacks

Lawyers, journalists, victims and families who lost loved ones have packed out the court for the opening of the country’s biggest criminal trial in history.

France’s justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has called for the trial to follow “centuries-old rules”, saying “the whole world is watching us” and the country must “live up to the logistic challenge”.

He added: “13 November 2015 plunged all of France in horror. There was a before and an after. These events, in effect, have become part of our history and of course, our collective memory.

“The justice system must not be lacking, concerning these events.”

Six of the 20 men accused will be tried in absentia, with five believed to have likely died in Syria.

French Gendarmes and police secure outside the temporary courtroom set up at the Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite before the start of the trial of the Paris' November 2015 attacks, in Paris, France
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French Gendarmes and police secure outside the temporary courtroom

The modern courtroom was constructed within the 13th-century Palais de Justice in Paris, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial, among others.

Throughout September, the trial is expected to focus on laying out police and forensic evidence before moving on to the testimonies from victims in October.

From November to December, officials including the former French president Francois Hollande are due to give evidence as will relatives of the attackers.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Hollande said: “I will answer any questions about my decisions during that terrible night. I will answer any questions if they are asked, about what our intelligence was.

Journalists line up to enter the Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite before the start of the trial of the Paris' November 2015 attacks, in Paris, France, September 8, 2021
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Journalists line up to enter the Paris courthouse

“What is the goal of the terrorists? Of course, to try to harm our way of life, and fight the war because we are waging one against them, but what they want the most is to divide us. That is why I am proud of the French because they didn’t divide after November 13th.”

Dominique Kielemoes, whose son bled to death at one of the cafes that night, said the month dedicated to victims’ testimonies at the trial will be crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation.

“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people. But it wasn’t a mass – these were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations, and that we need to talk about at the trial. It’s important,” she said.

France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin said there have been around 50 attacks since President Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017, out of which 36 have been thwarted by intelligence services.

He added that the threat of terrorism in the country is “particularly high” and where there is “pressure in media and politics focusing on the trial of radical Islamism, clearly the threat is even higher”.

For the first time, victims have been given the option to listen to the trial from home using a secure audio link with a 30-minute delay.

The proceeding will not be televised but will be recorded for archival purposes – which has only been used in a handful of cases in the country that are considered to be of historical value.

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