Seven years later and after 10 months of trial, this June 29 the judges will issue their verdict on the worst terrorist attacks in decades that shocked France. On November 13, 2015, Paris was the scene of a series of coordinated gun and bomb attacks by extremists, leaving 130 people dead and more than 400 injured. Survivors and relatives of the victims have described it as an “excruciating” trial, but crucial in their search for justice and closure.
End of a historic judicial process in France. The trial for the terrorist attacks in Paris has been unprecedented not only for its exceptional duration of 10 months, but also for the time it dedicated to the survivors and families of the victims testifying in detail about their ordeal and struggle to overcome the aftermath of what happened .
Throughout the process, the witnesses have had to relive one of the saddest days in recent history in the French capital.
On November 13, 2015, the Bataclan music hall, six bars and restaurants, and the perimeter of the Stade de France sports stadium were subjected to attacks that lasted for hours and left deep scars on the psyche of the city and the country.
It was the early hours of a usual Friday night with Parisian bars and restaurants packed with customers. In the Bataclan concert hall, the American band Eagles of Death Metal was playing to a full house.
A football match between France and Germany had just started at the National Stadium, attended by the then president of the nation François Hollande and the chancellor of Germany at the time, Angela Merkel.
At 9:16 p.m. there was the sound of the first explosion that barely managed to overcome the noise of the crowd in the stadium. The second came four minutes later. A squad of armed men opened fire on several bars and restaurants in another part of the French capital. That bloodshed outside came to an end at 9:41 p.m., authorities compiled.
However, the worst was not over. At 21:47, three more assailants broke into the Bataclan and fired indiscriminately. 90 people died in a matter of minutes. Hundreds more were held hostage for hours, some seriously injured, inside the concert hall.
All before Hollande, seeing people leaving the theater covered in blood, ordered the security forces to storm the place.
The Prosecutor’s Office asks for sentences between five years in prison and life imprisonment
20 men are accused of playing critical roles in the massacres. Most of the suspects are accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers back to Europe from Syria, or providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.
The Prosecutor’s Office has requested sentences ranging from five years in prison to life imprisonment.
But the maximum sentence is required for a man: Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots. He was the only one tried on various counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization, the so-called Islamic State.
The main suspect faces a possible life sentence without parole, a sentence handed down only four times in France so far.
14 of the accused have appeared in court, including Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the 10-member attack team that terrorized the city that Friday night. All but one of the six missing men are presumed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq. One more is in prison in Turkey.
Abdeslam began the trial by proudly claiming that he was a “soldier” of the self-styled Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The individual later apologized to the victims.
“When Salah Abdeslam decided to speak out to apologize, I don’t know if it was genuine or not, but he still felt like he had to make the effort, so that counts,” said Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan attack and president of Life for Paris. , an association of victims.
Abdeslam said during the judicial process that he voluntarily chose not to detonate his explosive vest and last Monday, June 27, he urged the court not to give him a harsh sentence.
“I made mistakes, it’s true, but I’m not a murderer, I’m not a murderer,” he said.
The testimonies of the witnesses, a key piece for the mega-trial
For months, courtrooms listened to the harrowing accounts of those who survived the tragedy, along with Abdeslam’s testimony.
For the survivors and the loved ones of those who lost their lives, the trial was an opportunity to tell deeply personal accounts of the horrors inflicted that night and to hear the details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion between people who until then were foreign.
“I think we can be proud of what we achieved (…) The trial exceeded anything we would have wanted, because the terrorists spoke, the terrorists somehow responded to our testimonies, that was so unexpected, that never happens in terrorism trials Denouveaux stressed.
Some hope for Justice, but most just wanted to tell the accused face to face that they were left irreparably scarred, but not destroyed.
“The murderers, these terrorists, thought they were shooting at the crowd, at a mass of people (…) They were not a mass, they were people who had a life, loved, had hopes and expectations,” he said at the beginning of the trial, in September 2021, Dominique Kielemoes, whose son bled to death in one of the cafes.
Later, the man assured that listening to the testimony of the victims was “crucial both for his own healing and for that of the nation”.
France has changed in the wake of the attacks: Authorities have declared a state of emergency and now armed officers constantly patrol public spaces. The violence provoked soul-searching among French and Europeans, as most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium.
The damage is irreparable, but for many the verdict that will be known this Wednesday, June 29, will close one of the most painful chapters for the country, although the lives of all those who suffered losses or gave their testimony were forever transformed.
On French territory, defendants in trials are not required to plead guilty and the sentence can be challenged on appeal.
With Reuters, AP and EFE
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