On this 92nd day of hearing, it was Salah Abdeslam’s second interrogation on the preparations for the attacks. The accused was questioned about the period from the end of August 2015 to November 7. And the hearing ended prematurely with the defense lawyers deserting to protest against the court.
Salah Abdeslam had deserted the box for several days. The main defendant in this trial, the only surviving member of the November 13 commandos, protested against the escorts and again refused to appear, as has happened to him several times since the start of his trial. But on the day of his second interrogation on the preparations for the attacks, he returned to sit in the glass cage, looking neatgel in the hair, trimmed beard, shirt with small gray and burgundy checks.
“I have nothing to hide, I’m afraid of no one”
“Well then, Mr. Abdeslam, please stand up in front of the microphone!”, orders President Périès, who will interrogate him in particular on round trips with rental cars between Brussels and Germany or Hungary, trips during which several terrorists were repatriated. First question on trip number one, at the end of August 2015, aboard a BMW which would have been used to bring back Hadfi and Akrouh, two of the November 13 suicide bombers.
“Can you hear me okay there?” begins Abdeslam, almost in a pop-star tone. “Yes, I did rent this vehicle, and I used it. On the other hand, I deny having gone to look for these two people”. He immediately adds that he “I deny bringing all those people back, but I did bring some people back.” He presents them as his “brothers for Islam”. He says these people “lived in a war zone. There was the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, all these people were fighting Islam. And the prophet forbade us to abandon our brothers”. Abdeslam continues: “I knew they needed me, that they were there and that they needed help, I answered present, I do not regret”.
The president reminds him that he is mainly blamed for four trips; he recognizes only two. The magistrate dwells on one of those that it is impossible to deny in view of the investigation. “I have nothing to hide, I’m afraid of no one, I tell the truth”, assures Abdeslam. But it does not say everything. “I’m not saying who was in the car”, for example, because there is “people who are in the box, it’s up to them to recognize”. Abdeslam also protects the absent, the dead, including his brother Brahim Abdeslam – Comptoir Voltaire suicide bomber and author of the shootings on Parisian terraces. “It’s not because people are no longer part of this world that I blame them. I don’t sway people!”, he warns, under the gaze of his co-defendants.
Insolence and provocations of Salah Abdeslam
The president nevertheless insists. He wants to know who Abdeslam brought back, who gave the order, when. “Looks like you didn’t hear me correctly, Mr. President!”, replica laccused, who begins to take an insolent tone in front of the court. The magistrate in the red robe with an ermine collar retorts that it is his duty to ask all the questions. A first silence from Abdeslam opposes him. Abdeslam also connects the “no comment”. He doesn’t want to talk about his brother anymore. “You don’t want to answer? Your brother, anyway, it can’t be him because he was in Morocco at the time!”, notes Judge Périès. So Abdeslam, tac-au-tac: “Ah? Besides, it was a trap!” A few laughs burst through the room. The balance of power between the accused media and the magistrates is accentuated over the hours. Abdeslam does not hesitate to tell the president: “Stop!” Or even, when the president immediately asks him to change his tone: “Don’t feel attacked, I have the impression that you are touchy!” He has laughing eyes above his black mask, from which a brown beard protrudes.
You get the impression that he sometimes makes fun of the chief magistrate of the court. Thus, when the president questions him about the detonators bought in a French shop, Abdeslam simply replies that it was “for someone, to set off fireworks”. The court asks him why he didn’t also buy fireworks? He claims he already had them. Abdeslam who also seems sincere when he proclaims “sIf I brought five people or ten people, for me it comes down to the same thing! But I’m not going to acknowledge things I didn’t do.” And he starts talking about Ukraine. Currently, “there is war in Ukraine, there are people who go to look for people at the border, others who go there to do humanitarian work, others to go and fight. That’s exactly what ‘it happened in Syria’, he tries. Over and over, he repeats that he wanted to help his “brothers in Islam”. He insists that he did nothing wrong. “I tell you the truth, I did nothing wrong”.
After nearly two hours of interrogation, Abdeslam positions himself squarely as a victim. “When I don’t talk, no one satisfies and when I don’t talk either!” He loses his temper because he thinks we want to put too many things on him “on the back”. “People want to believe that I killed 130 people, that I rented the vehicles, that I knew everything from the start, but that’s not the truth!”, he shouts. He asks for a short break from the president, who grants it.
Abdeslam to a victims’ lawyer: “Have you given birth?”
And then the hearing resumes with questions from the judges. At each, Salah Abdeslam affirms that he did not suspect that he was bringing back in his rental cars, terrorists who were preparing to commit attacks. One of them asks him if he would have gone to look for them if he had been told that they were future suicide bombers? “Ah, that’s a good question!” he admits. He thinks a little, and answers “If these people had in mind to carry out attacks, it is because they had good reasons to do so!” Then he lets go “you screwed up my life”. The judge, wide-eyed, makes him repeat. “You are France, the way you have treated me for six years!”, laments Abdeslam. The magistrate cuts short, says that “this is not what the civil parties expect”. In the room, a bereaved mother just screamed “130 dead!” Other victims, flabbergasted by Abdeslam’s words, applaud, looking disgusted.
The questions of the lawyers of the civil parties arrive. Me Topaloff puts forward a hypothesis which she explains to the accused Abdeslam. Would he not seek to minimize his role, by only recognizing two round trips according to the evidence of the investigators, trips during which men from Syria were indeed conveyed, but were not the suicide bombers of November 13? He stares at her in silence, and insolently throws at her : “Have you given birth?” Amazement of the seasoned lawyer. This time, President Périès is very angry and demands more politeness in his remarks. Abdeslam’s lawyer stands up to defend her client. Cries between Me Ronen and Me Topaloff. Sylvie Topaloff repeats her question shouting. “Maybe it’s not polite but you’re worse, you’re busy slipping me into things I didn’t do, if that gets into the court’s head, then I’m in the crap !”, Abdeslam defends himself. The atmosphere begins to be very electric. “I’m telling you the truth, if you don’t like it, I can’t do anything about it!” said the accused.
Anger of defense lawyers, who desert
Me Chemla, on behalf of dozens of civil parties, continues. “Do you understand why the victims applauded you? Can you understand that when you present yourself as a victim, people who are really victims find it unbearably indecent?” And Abdeslam to retort: “You are the one who is unbearable!” Then, on the benches of the defense, Me Martin Vettes, one of his lawyers gets up, claims the floor, but the court cut him off the microphone, because it is not his turn. He protests against the police from the hearing. The president contemptuously advises him to change jobs. We applaud again on the benches of the victims, this time, very clearly, to thank the president and howl against the accused number one of this trial.
In a huge hubbub, President Périès suspends the hearing. It is around 5:30 p.m. He then hopes for a serene recovery after a short break. He returns with an ultra authoritative tone, solemnly calls for calm, declares that he is not “not admissible to have shouts, nor comments from the public, this is not how we should do justice”.
He also asks the lawyers to try to respect each other’s words. But the defense lawyers are up in arms against his attitude. They demand that the incidents they denounce be noted. What the magistrate flatly refuses. Immediately, as one man, all the defense lawyers get up and leave the courtroom, heads held high. The November 13 trial cannot continue without them. The hearing is suspended for this evening, without this second interrogation of Salah Abdeslam having come to an end. We do not know in what climate, it will resume tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
Find all our articles devoted to the report, day by day, of the trial of the attacks of November 13, 2015 here.