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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 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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