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TERRORISM

‘I didn’t kill anyone,’ Paris terror attack suspect claims

The only suspected assailant still alive after the terror attacks that rocked Paris in November 2015 said on Wednesday "I didn't kill anyone, I didn't hurt anyone" as he took the stand for the first time in the trial over the jihadist massacres.

'I didn't kill anyone,' Paris terror attack suspect claims
This court-sketch shows Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the November 13 Paris attacks, flanked by a policeman, during the trial at the Palais de Justice of Paris. (Image: Benoit Peyrucq / AFP)

“I didn’t cause even a scratch,” Salah Abdeslam told the court in a sudden outburst before he was to be questioned over the worst peacetime atrocity carried out on French soil, in which 130 people were killed.

Abdeslam, 32, reiterated his claim of being a member of the Islamic State group, but 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 terrorists who were all killed in the wake of the attacks, appearing to imply that he had had a last-minute change of mind.

READ ALSO Paris 2015 terror attacks: What happened?

“In the future, when someone gets in a Metro or a bus with a suitcase stuffed with 50 kilogrammes 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.

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.

But 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 that begins on Wednesday will focus 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.

But they are seeking information on his brother Brahim, who travelled to Syria in early 2015 and detonated his suicide belt in a bar during the Friday-night attack in Paris; and on Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged ringleader who was killed by police a few days later.

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.

Abdeslam has been unrepentant so far in court. In one of a series of outbursts, he said that France “knew the risks” of attacking jihadist targets in Syria as part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

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.

So far, two of Abdeslam’s co-defendants have invoked their right to silence.

“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 13 onze15 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 the France national team were playing a football match against Germany.

A group of gunmen later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants, and Abdeslam’s brother Brahim blew himself up in a bar.

And, at the Bataclan, 90 people were massacred by other attackers 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.

The trial, which is expected to last nine months, sees 20 defendants, including Abdeslam, facing sentences of up to life in prison. Six of the suspects are being tried in absentia.

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CRIME

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.

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