There had been widespread speculation that Salah Abdeslam, allegedly the only survivor among 10 jihadists from the Islamic State group who massacred 130 people in Paris six years ago, would remain silent throughout the nine-month trial which opened on Wednesday.
The atmosphere was electric each time Abdeslam, a 31-year-old Franco-Moroccan and former petty criminal, stood to speak in the glassed-in dock of the state-of-the-art, €10 million courtroom.
Judge Jean-Louis Péries asked the 14 defendants who are present for the trial to state their names, the names of their parents, their occupations and former addresses. Six other men, all high-ranking members of Islamic State, or Isis, are being tried in absentia and are believed to have died under bombardment in Syria.
Abdeslam stood to speak into a microphone. “Above all, I want to testify that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,” he said, citing the Shahada or Muslim profession of faith. Some observers were pleased that the man charged with being a “co-author” of 130 murders has chosen to speak after all. Others expressed disgust that he is portrayed as a “star”, as well as fears that he will turn the trial into a platform for Islamist propaganda.
“Well, we’ll see about that in the course of the debates,” Judge Péries replied, then asked Abdeslam the names of his parents.
“The names of my father and mother have nothing to do with this,” Abdeslam snapped back. He said he had “abandoned all professions to become a soldier of the Islamic State”.
Abdeslam’s clean-shaven, juvenile face became familiar to the French public from wanted posters in the aftermath of the November 13th, 2015 attacks. He dressed all in black for his first court appearance. A long beard emerged from beneath his face mask and his long hair was slicked back.
The judge began reading the names of nearly 1,800 civil plaintiffs and their lawyers, a process which will continue through Thursday. More than 350 people were wounded in the attacks. They and anyone who suffered as a result may join the civil plaintiffs until the prosecutor’s closing remarks next May.
The session was briefly suspended after one of the accused, Farid Kharkhach, said he felt unwell. Kharkhach’s lawyers said he shows symptoms of depression and is traumatised by strip searches.
When the court resumed, Abdeslam shouted at the judge. “It’s beautiful in here, flat television screens, air conditioning . . . but nobody sees that behind the scenes we’re treated like dogs. I’ve been treated like a dog for more than six years. I don’t complain because I know that after death I’ll be resurrected, and you will pay for your actions.”
“This is not a religious tribunal,” Judge Péries told Abdeslam.