The man believed to be the only surviving member of the group suspected of carrying out the 2015 attacks in Paris has declared himself a “soldier of Islamic State”.
Salah Abdeslam, 31, made the statement while appearing in court on Wednesday.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks nearly six years ago, in which 130 died and hundreds were injured.
Twenty men accused of involvement in the jihadist rampage on November 15 are now facing justice, with French-Moroccan Abdeslam appearing in a black mask.
Some 130 people were killed and hundreds wounded when gunmen with suicide vests attacked six bars and restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium, leaving deep scars on the nation’s psyche.
Police mounted tight security around the Palais de Justice courthouse in central Paris as the accused arrived ahead of a trial predicted to last nine months.
Survivors and relatives of the victims said they were impatient to hear testimony that might help them better understand what happened and why it did so on Wednesday.
“It is important that the victims can bear witness, can tell the perpetrators, the suspects who are on the stand, about the pain,” Philippe Duperron, whose 30-year-old son Thomas was killed in the attacks.
“We are also awaiting anxiously because we know that as this trial takes place the pain, the events, everything will come back to the surface,” said Duperron, who is the president of a victims’ association and will testify at the trial.
The trial will feature about 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers taking part in what Justice Minister Eric Dupond Moretti has described as an unprecedented judicial marathon.
The 20 defendants include 11 who are already in jail pending trial. Six will be tried in absentia – most of them are believed to be dead.
AFP via Getty Images)
Abdeslam is widely reported to have remained silent during the investigation and survivors and relatives of those killed said they did not expect to hear much from him.
Most of the accused face life imprisonment if convicted.
The other suspects are accused of helping to provide guns and cars or playing a role in organising the attacks.
Responsibility for the killings was claimed by Islamic State, which had urged its followers to attack France over its involvement in the fight against the group in Iraq and Syria.
The first days of the trial are expected to be largely procedural, with plaintiffs being registered, though judges may read a summary of how the attacks unfolded.
Victims’ testimonies are set to start on September 28, with one week devoted to the attacks on the Stade de France and cafes, and four to the Bataclan.
The questioning of the accused will start in November but they are not set to be questioned on the night of the attacks and the week before them until March.
A verdict is expected in late May.
More than 1,000 police will be devoted to ensuring the security of the trial and all people allowed into the specially-built courtroom will have to pass through several checkpoints.
“The terrorist threat in France is high, especially at times like the attacks’ trial,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Inter radio.
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