At the specially composed Court of Assizes of Paris,
It took them three days to assemble, piece by piece, with furious meticulousness, the “puzzle” of the attacks of November 13, 2015. Like the rest of this hearing, which started nine months ago, the magistrates of the Public Prosecutor’s Office national anti-terrorist (PNAT) delivered a titanic indictment. Plunging the court back into the twists and turns of this sprawling investigation with 470 volumes, the Advocates General asked the special assize court to convict all of the men appearing at the trial. For more than fifteen hours, the three young magistrates, Nicolas Le Bris, Camille Hennetier and Nicolas Braconnay tried to unravel the threads – sometimes tenuous – which connect the 20 accused to the attacks.
Rejecting any “confusion” between the “levels of responsibility of each”, the prosecution brushed aside the notion of “second knives” tending to minimize the role of each other. “By conviction, complacency, cowardice or greed, they fed the beast, they housed the beast, they transported the beast, they protected the hiding place of the beast, they helped to arm the beast”, lambasted Thursday Nicolas Braconnay. While they recognized the existence of “grey areas” in the preparation and execution of the November 13 attacks, the attorneys general pointed to the responsibility of the defendants. “All the questions that plague us have an answer. And the answer is in the box. Most of the accused know but they are silent, ”tackled Camille Hennetier in his introductory remarks.
“He knew that blood was going to flow”
Unsurprisingly, the PNAT magistrates demanded a “heavy sentence” against Salah Abdeslam: incompressible life imprisonment, the maximum sentence incurred by the sole survivor of the Paris and Saint-Denis commandos. Criticizing the “acrobatic” defense of the accused, Camille Hennetier returned at length on Thursday to his journeys made at the end of the summer of 2015 to “repatriate” the members of the future commandos, relying in particular on the study of his telephony. “Salah Abdeslam’s place in this terrorist cell is other than that of an accomplice. He did not just help, he participated, “she had supported the day before. The man who “sought at all costs to pass himself off as a terrorist fallen from the sky”, explaining to the hearing that he had joined the cell at the last moment, must according to them be judged as a co-perpetrator of the crimes committed this evening of 13 November 2015.
“Like the accomplices, he has the blood of all the victims on his conscience. And as a co-author, it’s as if he had this blood on his hands, ”insisted Nicolas Le Bris. Sweeping away the thesis put forward at the hearing by the accused of a renunciation “out of humanity” when he had to trigger his explosive vest in a café in the 18th arrondissement, the magistrate who was on duty this November evening recalled that the Daesh’s press release mentioned the death of 8 terrorists. However, seven jihadists were killed in the attacks.
As for his explosive belt, the magistrate cited the statements made by Salah Abdeslam to his friends who came to collect it in Paris on the night of November 13 to 14, citing a “defect” when activating it. This extremely rare request for a sanction, which makes any request for adjustment of the sentence almost impossible, was requested in “regard to the seriousness of the acts committed”.
If he has long “focused anger”, Salah Abdeslam is however far from being the only one to expose himself to life imprisonment. In total, eleven men, five of whom are in the box alongside the Molenbeekois, incur this maximum penalty. This is the case of the voluble Mohamed Abrini, known to the general public as the “man with the hat” after being filmed at Brussels airport on the day of the attacks of March 22, 2016 in the Belgian capital. Present in Paris the day before the attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis alongside the other terrorists of the Stade de France and the terraces, Abrini finally returned to Belgium a few hours before the commission of the attacks.
“His renunciation should not be analyzed as a voluntary withdrawal, it has no effect on the acts committed after and cannot absolve him of his responsibility”, warned Nicolas Le Bris, Thursday evening. The prosecution demanded a life sentence against him, with a security period of 22 years, regretting in passing that the man “never expressed the slightest regret” vis-à-vis the attacks.
During their long demonstration, the Advocates General insisted on the “interchangeable” nature of the members of the Franco-Belgian cell. Qualified as “killing machines” and trained in Syria in the ranks of Daesh, the Swedish Osama Krayem and the Tunisian Sofien Ayari, who remained silent throughout the hearing, must also be considered as “accomplices” in the attacks. of November according to the prosecution.
A “same potential for death”
Admittedly, the investigation did not make it possible to determine why, on the evening of the 13th, these two thirty-somethings went to Amsterdam airport before returning to Belgium. But the existence of a computer file bearing the name of this airport and found in a computer used in a hiding place in the cell leaves no room for doubt: “They are the two survivors of the Dutch commandos”, launched Nicolas Le Broken. Against this duo “fully integrated into the terrorist commandos”, life sentences with a 30-year security period were requested.
Like these two members of the cell, the Pakistani national Muhammad Usman and the accused Algerian Adel Haddadi should have “should have been part of the commandos (…) They all had the same potential for death, the same training” completed Camille Hennetier a few minutes before the pronouncement of sentences. Both arrested in Greece on their way to reach Belgium, they were unable to join “the convoys of death” on the morning of November 12. Against these two “disgruntled operational staff” who face a twenty-year prison sentence, the anti-terrorist prosecution has requested the maximum sentence.
The “little hands”
There still remained a group, that of the “little hands” without whom the terrorist cell could not have organized itself and survived in hiding during the weeks preceding the attacks. “Logistician” in chief committed to the jihadist ideology, Mohamed Bakkali was, according to the PNAT, the “immersed” face of the group, “omnipresent” and “in contact with all terrorists”. His silence at the hearing, deemed “opportunistic” by the Advocates General, allowed him, according to them, “to avoid embarrassing questions”. Among these “intendants”, it is he who receives the heaviest requisitions with a sentence of life imprisonment requested, accompanied by a security period of 22 years.
In his wake, Ali El Haddad Asufi, Yassine Atar, Mohamed Amri, Farid Kharkhach, Hamza Attou, Abdallah Chouaa and Ali Oulkadi were subject to requisitions ranging from 16 to 5 years in prison. Individualized sentences with regard to their degree of adherence to jihadism and actions committed before and after the attacks for the benefit of the Franco-Belgian cell. Described as “complacent galley slaves”, “ideologues of jihad”, “small bosses”, “big offenders” by Nicolas Braconnay on Thursday, they have, according to the Advocate General, a “common point”: That of having “accepted responsibility to support this terrorist project.
By opening his indictment on Wednesday noon, Camille Hennetier had however warned the court and the civil parties: at the end of this trial “loaded with symbols, hope, expectations” does not “always spring forth the truth but a judicial truth “. From Monday, it will be the turn of the defendants’ lawyers to defend theirs.