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CRIME

Paris attacks suspect says he changed his mind at last moment

The last surviving suspected assailant in the deadly 2015 Paris attacks has told a court that he was sent to a café in the 18th arrondissement of the city, but at the last minute changed his mind about going through with the attack.

A court-sketch of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks on November 13, 2015.
A court-sketch of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks on November 13, 2015. (Image: Benoit Peyrucq / AFP)

“The objective I was given was to go to a café in the 18th” district in northern Paris, Salah Abdeslam told the special Paris court hearing the case. “I’m going into the café, I’m ordering a drink, I’m looking at the people around me – and I said to myself: ‘No, I’m not going to do it’.”

For the plaintiffs in the case, including the loved ones of victims of the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people, this was testimony they had been waiting months to hear.

Abdeslam, 32, said he was told about plans for the attack in Paris on November 11th, two days before they were carried out.

That happened at a meeting in Charleroi, Belgium, with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is accused of having masterminded the attacks.

Until then, said Abdeslam, he thought he was going to be sent to Syria. Instead, he was told he had been chosen to carry out an attack using an explosive belt.

“It was a shock for me, but he ended up by convincing me,” he said.

“I ended up accepting and saying, ‘Okay, I’ll go ahead with it’.”

But at that meeting, he was given no details about the targets for the attack.

When he ultimately did not go through with the attack, he told the court how he took his car and drove around Paris at random until it broke down.

Then he got out and walked, he said, saying his memories of that period were “confused”.

Pressed by the president of the court Jean-Louis Peries, he said only that he knew what he had been supposed to do.

“My brother, he had a belt, a Kalashnikov, I know he’s going to open fire, I know he’s going to blow himself up, but I didn’t know the targets.”

The attackers killed 130 people in suicide bombings and shootings at the Stade de France stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and on street terraces of bars and restaurants on November 13th, 2015, in France’s worst peacetime atrocity.

Abdeslam’s older brother Brahim opened fire on a cafe terrace before blowing himself up.

Earlier in court another defendant, Mohamed Abrini, said Abdeslam simply had not had the nerve to go through with the attack.

Abrini, who is accused of having provided weapons and logistical support to the attackers, said he had seen Abdeslam when he turned up at a safe house a day after the attacks.

“He was exhausted, tired, he looked pale,” said Abrini.

One of the organisers of the attacks had yelled at him for not having blown himself up.

“I think he told them that his belt hadn’t worked,” said Abrini.

Abdeslam told the court last month that in fact he had been lying about the malfunction.

After surviving the attack, Abdeslam fled to the Molenbeek district of Brussels where he grew up. He was captured in March 2016.

Alongside Abdeslam, co-defendants are answering charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks, as well as supplying weapons.

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CRIME

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

A French court on Tuesday ordered the partial release of a Corsican nationalist who has served 24 years in jail for the 1998 murder of a top French official.

French court orders partial release for convicted Corsican nationalist

Under the ruling, Pierre Alessandri will be allowed out of jail to work for a landscaping company in the daytime and will be granted a full conditional release in a year if he behaves well.

The relaxation of Alessandri’s conditions of detention came amid tensions between the Mediterranean island’s pro-autonomy leaders and the French state, after a fellow Corsican detained in the same case was killed in a French prison in March.

Alessandri and a third Corsican detainee were transferred from mainland France to a jail in Corsica in April after the murder of Yvan Colonna.

The Paris appeals court granted Alessandri “a probationary partial release” of 12 months from February 13, the prosecutor-general Remy Heitz said.

If he behaves well, he would then be granted “conditional release” for another ten years, he said.

Alessandri’s lawyer Eric Barbolosi hailed the ruling as a “great relief”.

“For the first time in a court of appeals, the magistrates made a decision based on the criteria necessary for a conditional release, not the particular nature of the case,” he said.

Alessandri had served enough time to be eligible for such a release by 2017, and had already petitioned to be freed three times.

But national anti-terror prosecutors objected, and an appeals court barred his release.

The country’s highest court then quashed one of these decisions, ordering the Paris appeals court to re-examine it.

Colonna, a former goat herder, was announced dead on March 21 after an Islamist extremist who accused him of blasphemy strangled and suffocated him in a prison in the southern town of Arles in mainland France.

He was detained in 2003 after four years on the run, and sentenced in 2007, and then again in 2011, to life in jail over the killing in 1998 of the French government prefect of Corsica, Claude Erignac.

The killing was the most shocking of a series of attacks by pro-independence militant group FLNC.

Alessandri and another nationalist, Alain Ferrandi, had already been sentenced to life in jail in 2003 over the murder.

Ferrandi, who was transferred to the same Corsican jail, has also requested to be released on parole, and a decision is due on February 23rd.

Colonna’s murder sparked violent protests in Corsica.

It galvanised the nationalist movement and led President Emmanuel Macron’s government to offer talks about giving greater political autonomy to the territory.

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