Paris attacks: Defence presents closing arguments in Abdeslam trial

Paris attacks: Defence presents closing arguments in Abdeslam trial
Salah Abdeslam at Paris trial. Credit: Belga

The trial of the Paris terror attacks in 2015 hears the closing arguments from defence lawyers on Friday, who are seeking to avoid life imprisonment for the defendant, Salah Abdeslam.

The defendant is the only surviving member of the Islamic State (IS) linked terrorist cell that killed 130 people on 13 November 2015.

He faces murder charges as part of an organised terrorist cell but is not accused of killing anyone himself. At the start of his testimony, Abdeslam pointed out that he hadn't personally killed or injured anyone.

Abdeslam risks life imprisonment, the most severe punishment under French law. This penalty is rarely requested in France and has only been given four times previously, making the possibility of release minimal.

The prosecution justified the sentence "in view of the immense gravity of the facts," but also due to the character of the defendant. Abdeslam "maintains he has not killed anyone" yet he has adopted "a strategy of constant minimisation of the facts, which indicates he has not gone through the change that he is claiming," said the prosecution.

Defence arguments

Defence lawyers to the French Belgian-born Abdeslam, Martin Vettes and Olivia Ronen, argue that since the attack in 2015, and during the long course of the trial, the defendant has changed. Abdeslam confirmed his association with the Islamic State on 8 September 2021 at the start of the trail, but during his last interrogation in mid-April, he broke down in tears and apologised to all the victims.

Abdeslam's mission had been to detonate a bomb in a suicide mission, but he claims that he "gave up" killing on the evening of November 13, refusing "out of humanity" to activate his explosive belt. The prosecution insists that Abdeslam did not go through his mission due to technical malfunctioning, not because he changed his mind.

The attacks

The terrorist attacks happening on 13 November when a group of ten heavily armed jihadists targets a number of sites in Paris, including the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France and surroundings.

Nine of the attackers were shot or blew themselves up in suicide bombings. Salah Abdeslam is considered to be the last survivor of the group.

He is alleged to have travelled to Paris from his home in Brussels together with other attackers to blow himself up. Whether he failed to do so out of a change of heart or due to technical issues is a crucial matter, especially for the families of the victims.

Abdeslam was going to detonate his suicide vest in a Paris bar, but allegedly changed his mind after seeing the people he would kill.

Court proceedings

A Belgian court already found Abdeslam guilty of terrorism-related attempted murder in a shootout with police in Brussels days before he was apprehended in 2016.

The length of the almost year-long trial in Paris and the 2,500 plaintiffs have made it the most consequential legal proceedings in France.

19 others are on trial for differing levels of assistance to the terrorist cell, while six are tried in abstentia. A verdict from the court is expected on Wednesday, 29 June.

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