“Exactly”, “I won’t say that”. At the trial of the November 13 attacks, the main accused Salah Abdeslam gave only rare answers, Tuesday, March 15, at the special assize court in Paris. Asked about his role in the preparations for jihadist attacks, he often contented himself with a “no comment”. This is the second interrogation on the merits of the case since the start of this extraordinary trial.
“Can you hear me there?” asks the 32-year-old Frenchman, small-checked shirt, gel in his hair, black mask on his face, before starting a strange pas de deux with the president of the special assize court in Paris, Jean-Louis Périès.
After a new series of hearings by Belgian investigators on the logistics set up by the jihadist cell in August 2015, the magistrate’s questions to the only surviving member of the commandos who killed 130 people in Paris and Saint-Denis are numerous. Salah Abdeslam is notably suspected of two trips to France to search for explosives.
He is also accused of the “recovery of terrorists” returning from Syria, via five convoys to Europe, using vehicles rented under his real identity, recalls President Périès.
He is first questioned about his trip that the investigators suspect him of having made at the end of August 2015, between Belgium and Hungary, during which he would have brought back Bilal Hadfi – one of the three suicide bombers from the Stade de France – and Chakib Akrouh, member of the terraces commando. Salah Abdeslam concedes having rented the BMW which was used to convey them but denies having been the driver.
The president then questions him about the Mercedes, which he rents on September 8, for a new Brussels-Budapest round trip, from where he brings back this time Najim Laachraoui, artificer of the attacks of November 13 and suicide bomber of the attacks of Brussels. “Who asked you to do this?” asks the president. “No comment”responds the accused.
If he recognizes this journey, he refutes another, which he would have made in stride, still to Budapest. He would then have escorted the Bataclan commando, namely: Samy Amimour, Ismaël Mostefai and Foued Mohamed-Aggad. “Who did you give the vehicle to?” asks the president. “I can’t tell you. Just because people aren’t part of this world anymore doesn’t mean I’m going to blame them.”loose Salah Abdeslam, who also claims to have never repatriated the two Iraqi suicide bombers from the Stade de France.
However, he recognizes a fifth trip, from October 2 to 9, to Ulm, Germany, during which he brought back the defendants Sofien Ayari, Osama Krayem, and Ahmad Alkhald, one of the gang’s artificers, presumed dead in Syria. Again, he does not want to say who asked him to make this trip. The president insists, making assumptions. “You should have been an investigator”mocks Salah Abdeslam, provocative.
Throughout his interrogation, the accused continued to be insolent in the face of his interlocutors, emphasizing, for example, the “susceptibility” Of the president. On several occasions, he provoked great anger on the benches of the civil parties, such as when he explained that he had been sought “his Muslim brothers” back from Syria not to do as during “The Second World War” when “Jews were being massacred” and “the other Jews lived peacefully in other countries”.
He assures that he was not made aware of the plans for attacks of the various terrorists he convoyed. “If you had known that these people were going to take part in attacks, would you have gone to look for them?” asks an assessor. Respondent’s response: “If these people had in mind to carry out attacks, it is because they had good reasons to do so.”
Sylvie Topaloff, lawyer for the civil parties, then tries to understand why he persists in not recognizing certain routes. “I wonder about the fact that you recognized only two trips. I am very struck to see that the three transfers that you refuse to recognize are, as it happens, the ones that are the most difficult to recognize”she throws at him, trying to push him to his limits.
“It’s a way for you to reduce your involvement: it won’t be said that you went looking for people who blew themselves up in the attacks.”Sylvie Topaloff, civil party lawyer
at the special assize court in Paris
“Have you given birth?” the accused responds sharply, arousing a new clamor on the side of the civil parties. The president calls him firmly to order and asks him to express himself with respect.
But the accused finds it difficult to moderate his remarks. Gérard Chemla, another civil party lawyer, then speaks to him in a calm tone. “When you present yourself as a victim, you explain that your life has been ruined, do you understand that for people who are really victims, you are in an indecency that is unbearable?” he asks her. “It’s you who are unbearable”retorts Abdeslam dryly, arousing new protests in the room.
Lawyer Olivia Ronen and her colleague, Martin Vettes, try to intervene. President Jean-Louis Périès is annoyed. “It’s up to the accused to answer the questions! We’re not in the National Assembly!” Martin Vettes persists. Tone up. “I know what the hearing police are, you’re not going to teach me”, launches the magistrate, to the applause of the room. He finally decides to suspend the hearing for a few minutes.
“I have been trying for several months to maintain the serenity of the debates (…). In this context, it is not admissible to have demonstrations on the part of the public”, declares the president at the resumption.
“I can’t tolerate applause or shouting or comments, that’s not how justice should be done.”Jean-Louis Périès, the president of the court
at the special assize court in Paris
A too late call for the defense of Salah Abdeslam, who asked that several incidents be formally recorded. In addition to the applause and their inability to speak, they deplore the fact that the first assessor told Salah Abdeslam that the “civil parties [attendaient] other answers” on his part.
The president refuses, considering that he acted as it should. All of the defense lawyers then unanimously left the trial, considering that the serenity of the debates was “compromised”. Faced with this dramatic change, the president decided to suspend the hearing, shortly before 6 p.m.