Paris attacks trial

Paris attacks victims deliver emotional messages to terrorist Abdeslam

Le Carillion café in Paris's 10th arrondissement was among the targets of the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks
Le Carillion café in Paris's 10th arrondissement was among the targets of the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks © lemonde

Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the terrorist groups that murdered 130 people in Paris in November 2015, has frequently interrupted proceedings at the trial where, along with 19 co-accused, he faces charges of conspiracy, perpetration or complicity in terrorism. At Tuesday's hearing several witnesses, psychologically hurt or bereaved in the attacks, had messages for Abdeslam himself.

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It was another day of intense emotion as the civil witnesses, those who were either injured or who lost friends or family in the attacks, continued their testimony before the special criminal court in Paris.

One young woman, shot at by a terrorist as she sat in her friend's car outside the Belle Équipe, said she was re-telling her story in the hope that some detail might help the grieving families.

She spoke of her fear as one of the gunmen turned and fired at her, the bullet piercing her jacket and shirt before burying itself in the car seat, leaving her physically unharmed.

"I don't believe it is possible to recover from such an experience, ever. But I realise how lucky I was. I feel guilty. I escaped. Perhaps I could have done more to help the others."

'An Islam of love and compassion'

Then we heard from a woman who told the court that she, like Salah Abdeslam, was a Muslim.

"But," she emphasised, "I grew up in a version of Islam which was based on love and compassion, not on exclusion and fear."

She believes she owes her life to the fact that the Belle Équipe was so crowded that night, forcing her to a table at the back, far from the terrace where the majority of the victims fell. She was physically unharmed but will never forget the sight of a girl slumped at a nearby table, dead where she sat.

"I thought of her poor parents, of her family."

She said she had been unable to leave the restaurant because she could not face stepping over the bodies piled outside the door. She waited for the emergency services to arrive, surrounded by blood, by victims with "grey faces frozen in death".

Having since sufferered two episodes of depression, she is now determined to live for her 18-month-old child. "I think about death all the time. I'm exhausted.

"I expect no miracles from this trial. I feel no hatred. Just a profound sadness.

"And I have a message for Salah Abdeslam, who claims he acted to avenge those who died in French bombing raids in Syria and Iraq. I remind him of the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said 'an eye for an eye will end up making the whole world blind'."

'I prayed to the same God as you'

There was yet another Muslim witness, a man who lost two sisters in the shooting at the Belle Équipe.

He said that, when the firing started, his first words were a prayer. "I prayed to the same God as you," he explained, glancing at the accused.

Physically unhurt, he has since seen his family life was destroyed because he "had no love to give anyone, not even my two kids. I wanted everyone to die."

He thanked the victims' associations for their help, and for giving him the chance to share his experience by talking to adolescents in secondary schools.

'Thank goodness we abolished the death penalty'

And then we heard from three members of a family who lost a daughter, a sister in the attack on the Belle Équipe.

One brother read a simple homage to a much-loved sister and the fiancé who died beside her.

The mother, born in Egypt, Arab-speaking, gravely articulate, talked of the joy transmitted by the Sufi chants known as anasheed, far from the grim atonal travesty which is the only musical form permitted by Islamic State.

She remembered, without bitterness, the family's "second bereavement" when they were presented with the wrong body in the mortuary of the French Medical Legal Institution.

She pointed to the police error, uncorrected after six years, repeated before this court, in the position in which her daughter died.

She said the family had never been officially informed of the girl's death.

She wondered how young men born in the same year as her child could have done such a thing. "They were cute little kids in primary school. How did this happen? Violence with a varnish of religion? I don't understand."

She remembered hearing the first words of the call to prayer in Cairo, "Allahu Akbar, a gentle reminder to the faithful, not the vicious war cry it has become in the mouths of these people who have turned a religion and a God upside down."

Finally this brave, generous woman said she was happy the death penalty had been abolished in France, "thanks to Robert Badinter (Justice Minister under President François Mitterrand) that was the best thing we ever did."

And she congratulated the defence lawyers for making the fair administration of justice possible. Abdeslam's two legal representatives bowed gravely in acknowledgement.

Then her other son, himself a long-term Cairo resident, gave his version of the family grief.

'Beware the rhetoric of war, of blood, of sacrifice'

He spoke of his unease at the special memorial ceremony at Les Invalides, the national military hospital, in Paris, two weeks after the attacks.

"We were told France was at war, but war is the business of armies. We listened to the national anthem, with its call to arms, its blood, its belligerence, its glorification of sacrifice. It was like a republican anasheed. It made me sick.

"This trial is an examination of a collective failure, our failure. Something is deeply wrong when Europeans kill Europeans.

"For myself, I'm hoping to find a way to rationalise my anger, perhaps some explanations.

"I have questions . . . about human nature, about France, about our foreign policy, about the contradictions in French society."

The trial continues.

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