“A lot is expected of me, but I can’t give information that I don’t have,” says Salah Abdeslam

To the specially constituted Court of Assizes of Paris,

On the steps of the Palais de Justice in Paris, the mines seemed tired this Wednesday. The tension that had built up the day before since the start of the November 13, 2015 trial – which began six months ago – shattered the debates. The ironic applause of the bourgeois parties, the brutality of Salah Abdeslam and the annoyance of the defense forced the president to suspend the interrogation of the main defendant. In the wake of this electric hearing, however, there is no going any further, for the attorneys responsible for defending the accused.

“We have submitted statements and we ask that you take note of three things that have happened,” said Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer, Me Olivia Ronen. A long debate between the parties ensued to determine whether the rights of the defense had been violated during the March 15 hearing. After deliberation, President Jean-Louis Périès rejected Mr. Ronen’s requests, as he had repeated the call for calm and had not expressed an opinion for or against either party. A salutary review that allowed the court to resume the interrogation of Salah Abdeslam, where he had stopped the day before, in an atmosphere devoid of tension.

“It’s Destiny”

Inside the box, Salah Abdeslam dropped his mask and his provocative tone. Confronted with his two lawyers, the 30-year-old reacts calmly and tries to clarify the facts of which he is accused. The core of this third interrogation: the tours that were made in the summer and autumn of 2015 to apprehend the members of the future terrorist cell behind the attacks.

On Tuesday, the man explained that he had been “chosen” by the Islamic State to rent vehicles and operate two of the five routes listed by the investigators. “What did you mean?” asks Olivia Ronen. “I meant well, I knew in that moment that I was not doing anything wrong. It was me, but it could have been someone else. It is destiny (…) Why ? Because that’s how it is, it is God who has chosen,” Abdeslam replies.

The lawyer tries to go further and find out who caused this “fate” and entrust him with such missions. But as with the lawyers of the civil parties or the magistrates of the court of assizes, Salah Abdeslam refuses to answer this question. “The truth will be established on the Day of Resurrection,” he says with a smile. “It may take a while. And we have a deadline of June 24,” his lawyer laments.

‘A lot is expected of me’

To these elements which he refuses to provide are added those which he has assured, since the beginning of the process, which he does not know. When he agrees to transport men from Syria twice, Salah Abdeslam says he has not yet “sworn allegiance” to the terrorist organization Daesh. He barely recognizes a “support” for those who left to fight Bashar al-Assad. At the time, he says, he only had the information strictly necessary to carry out the tasks entrusted to him. “We’ll give you the number of people who need to recover? asks his lawyer. “Yes. I will receive an address and photos to recognize them,” says the suspect. “Their nationality?”, continues Mr. Ronen. “No, and I don’t need any more information,” he concludes.

On Tuesday, Salah Abdeslam, faced with pressing questions from civil party lawyers, exploded: “If I don’t speak, it doesn’t satisfy anyone. And when I speak, it’s the same (…) I’m not going to say things I haven’t done. I’m telling the truth, now if you won’t believe me, there’s nothing I can do! This question about the expectations of the civil parties was again underlined during the hearing on Wednesday. “Many in this room think that because you’re a commando survivor, you know all about November 13 and you’re a bit like a black box,” his lawyer, Me Martin Vettes, launched. To him, Salah Abdeslam regrets: “It is a totally wrong idea. Much is expected of me, but I cannot give this information, I do not have it. I can’t do anything to satisfy them. †

However, many questions about the course of the attacks on the evening of November 13, 2015 still need to be clarified. How were the different commands distributed? What was Abdeslam’s exact role? Did he or did he not try to activate his explosive belt that was found a few days after the attacks in a garbage can in Montrouge (Hauts-de-Seine)? His fourth hearing, which will focus on these facts, is already scheduled for March 30 and 31.