From Tuesday, Salah Abdeslam and the other defendants in the trial on November 13 will be questioned for the first time about the course of the worst jihadist attacks that France has ever known.
Seven months of hearings and perhaps finally long-awaited response to a night of terror. For several weeks, the Special Assize Court in Paris has been chronologically moving forward towards this disastrous night, where they have alternately heard investigators and accused, and dissected the months and days that preceded the attacks: travel to Syria, repatriation of commandos, delivery of hiding places , cars, weapons, explosives …
It is now time to question the accused about the final preparations before the massacre, the departure to Paris the day before the attacks from the “death convoy” – as the accused Mohamed Abrini called it – and finally on 13 November 2015.
Some have already exceeded the consultation plan and mentioned the attacks. Starting with Salah Abdeslam, the “tenth man”, the only member still alive of the commandos who killed 130 people in Paris and Saint-Denis. “When you’re in jail,” in isolation and constantly observed, “you say to yourself ‘I should have started this thing, did I do the right thing to go back, or would I have had to go all the way?’ ‘, he had let go in February during his first interrogation about the reality of the case.
By March 2016, after four months on the run and his arrest in Belgium, he had already claimed to have “given up” to activate his explosive belt. Before he remains silent for the next five years until the trial.
“Permission to doubt”
The 32-year-old Frenchman explained at the time that he should have blown himself up in the air at the Stade de France, but that he changed his mind when he arrived there. He would then have dropped the other three suicide bombers and driven on the road again before leaving his car in the 18th arrondissement, then his explosive belt south of Paris.
A thesis which, according to the prosecution, “is allowed to doubt”. First because the press release from the organization Islamic State (IS) mentions an attack “in the 18th arrondissement”, where the car was found and which did not take place. So because the experts found that the belt was defective. Finally because Salah Abdeslam would have told several relatives that it had not worked.
Will he explain himself during his interrogation scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday? Until then, he has agreed to speak, but rarely to go into detail and oppose “no comments” on specific issues.
Others, such as the suspected logistician Mohamed Bakkali, or the Swede Osama Krayem and the Tunisian Sofien Ayari – suspected of wanting to carry out an attack at Amsterdam airport on 13 November – warned that they would continue to exercise their right to silence. This is despite calls from civilian party lawyers urging them to “give answers” and claim that their “clients need to understand”.
Many expectations are based on Mohamed Abrini, the “man in the hat”, who had left his trolley with explosives during the attacks in Brussels. He will be the first to be questioned on Tuesday. Talkative during the investigation and since the start of the trial, he declared for the first time a few days ago that he was “scheduled for November 13”.
Should there have been “an eleventh man”? The day before the attacks, Mohamed Abrini had accompanied the commandos to Paris, but he left the same evening. To the investigators, he always claimed that he had only come to accompany his friends “in their last breath,” an astonishing willingness to take risks that was considered not very credible. The prosecution rather believes that he had also given up there. “I will inform you next week,” the 37-year-old Belgian promised the court. “Do not regret meaning until then!” asked President Jean-Louis Périès.
Earlier in the same hearing, however, attacked by specific requests, Mohamed Abrini had warned: “You assume I have all the answers. But I will tell you: the eleven who are here in the box, it is nothing! Those who made November 13, they are no longer there.They had all the answers that could satisfy you.