To analyse

What to remember from the trial of the November 13 attacks

After more than five years of investigation and ten months of hearing, the trial of the attacks of November 13, 2015 is nearing its conclusion.

AFP - ALAIN JOCARD

Text by: Nathanaël Vittrant Follow |

François-Damien Bourgery Follow |

Marine de La Moissonnière Follow

15 mins

Six and a half years after the attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis, the long trial of November 13 is nearing its conclusion.

A look back at the main facts of these ten months of hearings. 

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It's the end of a legal marathon like France had never known.

A " 

historic trial

 ", " 

out of the ordinary

 ", has been repeated many times, whose figures have made it possible to measure the scale: 20 defendants, including 14 present, some 330 lawyers, 2,500 civil parties, a file of a million pages, hundreds of victims and witnesses heard at the bar, including a former President of the Republic and a former Prime Minister...

After more than five years of investigation, the special assize court presided over by judge Jean-Louis Périès tried during

these ten months of hearing

to shed light on the attacks of November 13, 2015, the deadliest that the France has ever known, in order to determine the exact role of each of the accused in the preparation and execution of these attacks, and in the flight of those who participated in them. 

The court is due to deliver its verdict on Wednesday, June 29.

Will she follow the severe requisitions of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor's Office (Pnat) which is demanding sentences ranging from five years in prison to irreducible life for the 20 accused?

Pronounce the acquittal of some of them, as pleaded by their lawyers?

In the meantime, here is what to remember from this unprecedented trial. 

◼︎ 

The infinite pain of the victims 

Never had so much space been given to civil parties during a trial.

Three hundred and ninety-seven people took turns at the helm for five weeks in the fall, then another two weeks in the spring, to recount their November 13, the horror of that evening and the aftermath.

The deeply moving stories of the survivors made it possible to trace precisely the course of the attacks. 

They led the audience around the Stade de France, to the terraces of cafes in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris and to the Bataclan concert hall, where three commandos from the Islamic State group left 130 dead and hundreds injured. .

Two survivors subsequently committed suicide, including a woman during this trial.

With great dignity, they all also recounted the wounds, visible and invisible, which six years later still make them suffer.

Among the testimonies that marked, there was that of a little boy of five and a half who, through the voice of his lawyer, said how much he was angry with the defendants for the death of his father, killed at the Bataclan There also had Aurélie

whose great love was killed on November 13, 2015

.

Her little girl, with whom she was pregnant at the time, sometimes whispers " 

daddy

 ".

She thinks we all meet after death;

so she is patient, told Aurélie.

Or even Félix, who came to ask forgiveness from those he jostled and trampled to get out of the Bataclan.

You are a victim

 ," the president of the court had repeated to him. 

To read also: "Rotten like a rotten banana": the text of a child read at the trial of November 13

To complete these shocking testimonies, some

images of the attacks and excerpts from a sound recording

of the evening at the Bataclan were broadcast.

But unlike the trial of the January 2015 attacks, the photos had been chosen with care.

An extremely rare precaution at the assizes and a "

sanitization

" criticized by some, including within victims' associations.

◼︎

The ambivalence of Salah Abdeslam 

Almost silent during the five years of investigation, the only member of the commandos still alive finally spoke during this trial, sometimes even when he was not invited.

The president had to call him to order several times.

Salah Abdeslam, 32, answered questions from the court and the lawyers, but not all of them.

He carefully chose when to speak and when to be silent.

Some civil party lawyers and the prosecution saw it as the perverse attitude of a man enjoying everyone hanging on his lips. 

He thus seemed to oscillate between two faces.

On the one hand, that of the “ 

Islamic State fighter

 ”, as he presented himself at the opening of the hearing when the president asked him his profession, who speaks in a provocative tone of the terrorists of 13- Novembre as one of his brothers and who does not deny his jihadist commitment.

On the other, that of the “little guy from Molenbeek” who, last April, cried,

apologized to the victims

 and asked them to “ 

hate him in moderation

 ”.

His lawyers and Salah Abdeslam explained this attitude by the harshness of his isolation and his conditions of detention.

Arriving on the first day of the trial, he suffered " 

a social shock

 ", he justified during

his very last speech

after reiterating his apologies.

On the merits of the case, Salah Abdeslam claims to have been made aware of the attacks only the day before and

to have given up blowing himself up 

in a bar in the 18th arrondissement of Paris “  out

of humanity

 ”.

On the other hand, he said nothing about the purchases of explosives, car rentals, trips to bring members of the terrorist cell back to Brussels. 

◼︎

Few revelations 

Beyond Salah Abdeslam's version, which did not convince the prosecution at all, the courtroom was not the scene of any major confessions.

Only

Mohamed Abrini acknowledged that he should have participated in the attacks

, which is why he had accompanied the commandos in the Paris region.

The day before the attacks, he had finally given up and returned to Brussels by taxi.

If his lawyers welcomed " 

the big step forward

 " represented by this confession, the public prosecutor considered that the Belgian-Moroccan had only admitted the evidence in the light of the investigation, and did not have everything said, like Salah Abdeslam.

Three defendants chose not to say anything at all.

Sofien Ayari and Osama Krayem, suspected of having wanted to carry out an attack at Schipol airport in Amsterdam on November 13, as well as Mohammed Bakkali, one of the alleged logisticians of the attacks, made use of their right to silence.

Convinced of being condemned in advance, they did not wish to defend themselves, even if the first made a strong impression for the space of an afternoon.

Sofien Ayari, moved by a civil party, chose to explain the reasons for his departure for Syria in the wake of the Arab springs. 

To read also: "I owed him that": at the trial of the attacks of November 13, the partial explanations of Sofien Ayari

At the end of this river trial of ten months, for lack of evidence and confessions, many questions remain.

Did Salah Abdeslam know that his explosive vest didn't work?

Why was he alone when the other members of each commando acted in threes?

Why had he then gone to the south of Paris when his friends came from Belgium to look for him?

Where did the Kalashnikovs used on November 13 come from?

Were the airports of Roissy in Paris and Schipol in Amsterdam also targeted?

In rendering its verdict, the Assize Court will establish the responsibilities of each party, and failing to be able to fully establish the truth of the facts, it will speak the judicial truth.

◼︎

Heavy requisitions

Sentences of five years to life imprisonment

were requested

against the twenty defendants following a three-vote indictment by the magistrates of the national anti-terrorist prosecution.

The heaviest concerns Salah Abdeslam, against whom the national anti-terrorist prosecution has demanded life imprisonment with an incompressible security period, that is to say life imprisonment.

Since its introduction in 1994, this sentence has only been imposed four times, each time for the murder of children accompanied by rape or torture.

The public prosecutor justified his request by emphasizing " 

the immense gravity of the charges

 " against Salah Abdeslam, " 

steeped in ideology

 ", and his inability to express remorse. 

The same sentence was required against Osama Atar (the “mastermind” of the attacks) and Obeida Aref Dibo, one of his right-hand men, both presumed dead in Syria.

But eight other defendants, prosecuted for complicity in attempted murders in an organized gang and in connection with a terrorist enterprise on agents of the public force (the police officers intervened at the Bataclan), also incur it. 

During their pleading, Salah Abdeslam's lawyers denounced a "

slow death penalty

", a "

white death, which unlike capital punishment, takes place in indifference

".

They asked that their client not be condemned in place of all the other members of the commandos on the pretext that he was the only one still alive.

What the prosecution is doing is sanctioning Salah Abdeslam as a symbol

,” denounced Me Olivia Ronen.

To read also: November 13 trial: the defense of Salah Abdeslam refuses that he be tried "as a symbol"

◼︎

Calls for “respect for the norm”

This trial is extraordinary, but it must remain within the norm.

In his introductory remarks, on September 8, 2021, the president of the special assize court Jean-Louis Périès had warned: if this trial is rightly considered historic, what matters is precisely the respect of the standard, of criminal procedure and the rights of everyone, in particular those of the defence. 

This was indeed one of the anxieties of the defense lawyers before the start of this trial: were they going to be able to calmly accomplish their mission in such an emotionally charged and media-charged trial?

The course of the hearings reassured them.

The civil parties have never shown them hostility, friendships have even been made, the victims' associations have come to their rescue when they were attacked in the public square.

The Paris bar, the largest in France, has even set up a system for redistributing the financial aid granted by the State to civil party lawyers to partly finance those for the defence. 

We often heard at the bar the civil parties asking that the accused be well defended, that justice respond to the arbitrariness of the attacks.

We can affirm it: they have been heard.

On the defense benches were gathered a few veterans of criminal law like Christian Saint-Palais, but also and above all young and brilliant lawyers – the majority of whom were female lawyers – who all fiercely defended this “ 

respect for the norm

 ”.

In their pleadings, they recalled that the " 

convictions of the prosecution

 " could not be enough to condemn, that the " 

conditional is the mode of doubt, the one that normally acquits

 ", that the magistrates were not invited to " 

enter in history

 » by their verdict, but to judge « 

at the height of a man, with a very small h

 ».  

◼︎

A good lawsuit

An exchange summarizes the way in which Jean-Louis Périès, the president of the special assize court, conducted these debates.

On the first day of the trial

, when Salah Abdeslam was asked to state his profession, the only surviving member of the terrorist commandos replied: " 

Fighter of the Islamic State

 ".

“ 

I had noted interim

 ”, replies the president without being moved.

During these 10 months of hearings, the good-natured authority of the president has never been denied.

His light southern accent and his humor often served to defuse tensions and he established himself as the reassuring captain of the ship, offering a patient and attentive ear to the accused as well as to the civil parties and to the numerous witnesses. 

In almost 150 days of hearings, a single incident interrupted the proceedings: Salah Abdeslam, again, answered the court's questions and multiplied the provocations.

In the room, the civil parties applaud ironically to mark their disapproval.

The president is slow to react and responds to a lawyer to " 

change profession

 " when he complains.

The defense lawyers stand up and leave the room.

It will be the only time, and that in itself is a challenge.

The debates were sometimes heated, the exchanges at random, there were some invectives, but the general opinion, the serenity of the debates was respected.  

◼︎

Moments of communion 

Who would have thought before this trial started that friendships would be formed between victims and certain defendants?

Yet this is what we have been able to observe.

Over the months, late hearings, the various actors in the case have become tamed.

Some civil parties have taken a liking to some of the defendants who appear free, and are surprised to be moved by their story.

The defendants for their part said they were upset by the testimonies of the victims at the bar.

Most had a word for them when they spoke one last time. 

The "bubble" of the courthouse has especially allowed reconciliation between civil parties, some have found the "hero" or "heroine" encountered that evening, the firefighter or the policeman who guided them outside the horror.

We have seen victims joking with defense lawyers, getting together for a drink after the hearings.

A human community that will perhaps continue after the trial, when

many fear the great void it will leave

◼︎

An audience turned upside down by the Covid-19 

The verdict was originally due to be delivered on May 25.

It will finally be returned a month later.

In question, the Covid-19 epidemic which did not spare the defendants of this trial, postponing the debates for a week on four occasions.

For the president, it was a repeated puzzle since it was necessary each time to reorganize the calendar, to find a new date for the witnesses who were to be heard by juggling the diaries of the many actors in this file.

The health context also imposed masks concealing the features of all the actors, and it was not until spring that the faces of Jean-Louis Périès or the accused were discovered.

The three Advocates General have only dropped their masks once: at the time of the indictment.

For the rest, the organization of this trial has been widely welcomed.

The idea of ​​badges with colored cords to identify lawyers, journalists, civil parties agreeing to respond to the media and those preferring not to be questioned, was unanimously accepted.

Just like the psychological support unit present on site and by telephone for those who followed the trial remotely via web radio.

To read also: At the trial of November 13, psychologists in support

From

this web radio

, set up especially for this trial, the various actors in the November 13 trial draw a positive assessment, despite some reported addictive behavior.

The device will therefore be renewed for that of the Nice attack which will begin in Paris on September 5th.

This time it will be accessible from overseas and abroad, and a translation is planned.

This was not possible for the November 13 trial, despite repeated requests to do so.

In question, the risks of computer attacks but also the difficulty of sanctioning those who, outside France, would have recorded the debates.

Any capture was indeed prohibited.

◼︎

Next

Given the sometimes abysmal gap between the requisitions and the defense pleadings, it is likely that the parties will appeal the outcome of the verdict, scheduled for the evening of June 29.

Pending a possible appeal trial, six of the twenty accused of November 13 will be tried from October 10 in Brussels for the attacks committed on March 22, 2016 in the Belgian capital.

They are Salah Abdeslam, Mohamed Abrini – “the man with the hat” from Zaventem airport –, Sofien Ayari, Ousama Krayem, Ali El Haddad Asufi and Oussama Atar, presumed dead in Syria and therefore tried in absentia.

The images of the November 13 trial, fully filmed,

will be kept at the National Archives

.

They may be communicated for historical or scientific purposes as soon as a final judgment has been rendered, that is to say when there is no longer any possible appeal.

Their distribution and reproduction will only be free after 50 years.

The huge 550-seat room, built expressly for this trial and described by some as a " 

secular cathedral

 ", is not intended to last.

Even if other lawsuits could be held there, it should be dismantled in a few years.

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