Paris attacks suspect claims backed out of suicide bomb plan
PARIS — The only suspected assailant still alive after the terror attacks that rocked Paris in November 2015 claimed Wednesday he went back on a plan to blow himself up, as he took the stand for the first time in the trial over the jihadist massacres.
“I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t hurt anyone… I didn’t cause even a scratch,” Salah Abdeslam told the court in an unprompted outburst before being questioned over the worst peacetime atrocity carried out on French soil, which saw 130 people killed.
Abdeslam, 32, reiterated his claim of belonging to the Islamic State group, saying he pledged allegiance to the group “48 hours before the attacks” — though later claiming he had pledged “without even knowing it”.
But he said the court was making a mistake in wanting to “make an example” of him by inflicting a potential life sentence.
He sought to distance himself from the team of assassins who were all killed in the wake of the attacks, appearing to imply he had a last-minute change of heart.
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“In the future, when someone gets in a metro or a bus with a suitcase stuffed with 50 kilograms of explosives, and at the last minute decides ‘I’m not doing this,’ he will know that he can’t, because otherwise he will be locked away or killed,” he said.
He added in later comments to the court: “We cannot condemn the people who did not kill anyone as if they were the chiefs of Islamic State. It is not possible.”
“Now we say to ourselves ‘I should have set this thing off!’ and ask ‘Did I do the right thing to back track? Or should I have gone all the way?'”
Abdeslam has so far largely refused to answer investigators’ questions since his March 2016 arrest in Belgium, where police found him after months of searching for the men behind the massacres.
He has claimed he discarded his suicide vest and fled the French capital in the chaotic aftermath of the bloodshed, eluding an intense manhunt to return to Molenbeek, the Brussels district where he grew up.
The questioning focused initially on Abdeslam’s background and events before the attacks. Prosecutors have already established that he spent much of his youth as a pot-smoking fan of nightclubs and casinos.
Yet as questioning began by presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries, Abdeslam often gave offhand answers that verged on insolence.
Asked about a suspiciously short trip to Greece a few months before the attacks with one of his co-defendants, where investigators say they might have met IS operatives, Abdeslam said it was just a “road trip”.
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“We stopped in Italy, ate pasta, then went to Greece and visited some islands and that’s it,” he said.
“You think everything is linked to the Islamic State, but people also have a social life.”
He also claimed he learned only months after that his brother Brahim, who detonated his suicide belt in a bar during the Friday night attack in Paris, had travelled to Syria in early 2015.
Abdeslam’s mother, sister and ex-fiancee had also been scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday, but the presiding judge informed the court that they would not be coming, without giving further details.
After four months of proceedings, the trial — the biggest in modern French history, attended by hundreds of plaintiffs and victims’ relatives — has entered a new phase in which the 14 suspects present are to be questioned.
“When I look at him, it’s just a feeling of incomprehension. How could he do what he did, what they did?” Philippe Duperron, whose son was killed when the gunmen stormed the Bataclan concert hall, told France 2 television on Wednesday.
“What could explain it? But once again, I think this trial will end without us being able to understand,” said Duperron, who is president of the 13onze15 Fraternite-Verite victims’ association (“November 13, 2015, Brotherhood and Truth”).
The horror was unleashed on a Friday night when the first attackers detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where France was playing a football match against Germany.
A group of gunmen later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants, and 90 people were massacred by other attackers at the Bataclan as they watched a rock concert.
Abdeslam’s co-defendants are answering charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks, as well as supplying weapons.
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