Main suspect tells Paris attacks trial he's 'an Islamic State soldier'


FILE PHOTO: A commemorative plaque for the victims of Paris' November 2015 attacks is seen near the bar and restaurant previously named Comptoir Voltaire in Paris, France, September 1, 2021. Twenty defendants will stand the trial of Paris' November 2015 attacks from September 8, 2021 to May 25, 2022 at Paris courthouse on the Ile de la Cite, with nearly 1,800 civil parties, more than 300 lawyers, hundreds of journalists and large-scale security challenges. Picture taken September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) -The main suspect in a jihadist rampage that killed 130 people across Paris described himself defiantly as "an Islamic State soldier" and shouted at the top judge on Wednesday at the start of a trial into the 2015 attacks.

Salah Abdeslam, 31, is believed to be the only surviving member of the group that carried out the gun-and-bomb attacks on six restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium on Nov. 13, 2015, in which hundreds were injured.

He appeared in court dressed in black and wearing a black face mask. Asked his profession, the French-Moroccan removed his mask and told the Paris court: "I gave up my job to become an Islamic State soldier."

While the other defendants, who are accused of providing guns, cars or helping plan the attacks, simply answered routine questions on their name and profession and otherwise remained quiet, Abdeslam clearly sought to use the start of the trial as a platform.

Asked by the court's top judge to give his name, Abdeslam used the Shahada, an Islamic oath, saying: "I want to testify that there is no god except Allah and that Mohammad is his servant."

He later shouted at the court's top judge for two minutes, saying the defendants had been treated "like dogs", BFM television reported, adding that someone in the public section of the court, where victims and victims' relatives sit, shouted back: "You bastard, 130 people were killed."

Victor Edou, a lawyer for eight Bataclan survivors, had said earlier that Abdeslam's statement that he is an Islamic State soldier was "very violent".

"Some of my clients are not doing too well... after hearing a statement that they took as a new, direct threat," he said. "It's going to be like that for nine months."

Others said they were trying not to attach much importance to Abdeslam's comments.

"I need more to be shocked ... I'm not afraid," said Thierry Mallet, a Bataclan survivor.

Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by Islamic State, which had urged followers to attack France over its involvement in the fight against the militant group in Iraq and Syria.

IMPATIENT AND ANXIOUS

Before the trial, survivors and victims' relatives had said they were impatient to hear testimony that might help them better understand what happened and why it did so.

"It is important that the victims can bear witness, can tell the perpetrators, the suspects who are on the stand, about the pain," said Philippe Duperron, whose 30-year-old son Thomas was killed in the attacks.

"We are also waiting anxiously because we know that as this trial takes place the pain, the events, everything will come back to the surface."

The trial is expected to last nine months, with nearly 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers involved in what Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti called an unprecedented judicial marathon. The court's top judge, Jean-Louis Peries, said it was an historic trial.

Eleven of the 20 defendants are already in jail pending trial and six will be tried in absentia - most of them are believed to be dead. Most face life imprisonment if convicted.

Police mounted tight security around the Palais de Justice courthouse in central Paris. Defendants appeared behind a reinforced glass partition in a purpose-built courtroom and all people must pass through several checkpoints to enter the court.

"The terrorist threat in France is high, especially at times like the attacks' trial," Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Inter radio.

The first days of the trial are expected to be largely procedural. Victims' testimonies are set to start on Sept. 28. Questioning of the accused will start in November but they are not set to testify about the night of the attacks and the week before them until March.

A verdict is not expected before late May, but Bataclan survivor Gaetan Honore, 40, said being there from the start mattered.

"It was important to be here on the first day, symbolically. I'm hoping to understand, somehow, how this could happen," he said.

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun, Michaela Cabrera, Antony Paone, Yiming Woo, Ingrid Melander, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Blandine Henault; Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by Timothy Heritage and Gareth Jones)

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