The trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the 2015 wave of terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 and left hundreds more injured has opened in the French capital’s historic law courts.
At 13.17 on Wednesday judge Jean-Louis Périès said: “the criminal hearing is open”, launching a marathon legal process that is scheduled to last nine months.
Fourteen suspects were in the dock, including Salah Abdeslam, who is accused of being the only surviving member of the Islamist commando unit that carried out shootings and suicide bombings in the city on 13 November 2015.
Six others are being tried in their absence, five of them presumed dead in Iraq or Syria and the last in prison in Turkey.
Abdeslam, wearing a black mask and black T-shirt, was the first of the accused to be addressed. Asked his name, he took off his mask to reveal a thick beard. “Firstly, I will say there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”
Asked his profession, Abdslam replied: “I have given up all profession to become a soldier with Islamic State.” He refused to give his parents’ names, insisting: “The name of my father and of my mother has nothing to do with this,” and said he had no address. He gave his date of birth as 15 September 1989.
After the other accused were asked to identify themselves, and the names of the absent suspects were read out, Périès told the court: “Today we begin a historic, unusual trial. Certainly historic because it concerns events engraved in our collective memory; certainly unusual, given the number of victims, civil parties and lawyers.
“But we have to integrate the normal at once, in particular the rights of the defence. This court’s function is to address the charges against the persons sent here by listening to everyone: the civil parties, the prosecution, the defence. We have to keep all this in mind; I know I can count on you.”
Eleven of the accused were driven to the Palais de Justice from four different prisons for the trial that will hear from 300 lawyers and around 300 of the 1,750 civil parties, including survivors, victims’ relatives and those directly affected by the attacks. Périès is the chief judge and will preside over the court with eight other professional magistrates.
The courtroom, a temporary structure built within the law courts, is the scene of the biggest criminal trial ever in France. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the series of coordinated attacks included a suicide bomb at the Stade de France and a massacre at the Bataclan concert hall as well as drive-by shootings and suicide bombings at cafes and restaurants.
Around 1,000 police and gendarmes were reportedly deployed to maintain security and seal off the area around the Palais de Justice on an island in the Seine diverting vehicles, pedestrians and buses.
Abdeslam, 31, a Brussels-born French citizen, is alleged to have been central to the international logistics operation that involved the jihadists returning to Europe from Syria. He is believed to have escorted the three bombers who blew themselves up at the Stade de France. He is suspected of planning to carry out his own suicide attack in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, but backing out. Police found a suicide vest they believe he intended to use in a rubbish bin.
Days after his arrest, in March 2016 after a four-month manhunt that ended in a shootout with police in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, a suburb of Brussels, suicide bombers alleged to be part of the same cell struck at Brussels airport and the metro, killing 32 and injuring 270.
Abdeslam has maintained a near-total silence on his part in the Paris bloodshed.
Abdeslam’s brother blew himself up and died at a Paris bar during the attacks. Abdeslam hid south of Paris after the attacks and called contacts in Brussels to collect him by car at 5.30am. Also on trial is Mohamed Abrini, 36, Abdeslam’s childhood friend, believed to have travelled to the Paris region with the attackers, who was later captured on CCTV with the two Brussels airport bombers.