The trial of the survivors of the Bataclan attacks has begun in Paris. For almost a new month, France has been devoting itself to the darkest chapter of its post-war history – Islamist terror.

Stefan Brändle, Paris / ch media

It’s currently sunny and humid in Paris – just like on November 13, 2015, when bombs went off in several places in Paris and 130 people were shot in the Bataclan concert venue. Now the trial of 20 accomplices and masterminds of the worst terrorist attack in Europe in the last ten years begins in the Palace of Justice. In terms of scope and intensity, it is a “historical” trial, says court president Jean-Louis Périès at the beginning. Several hundred plaintiffs, lawyers and a few journalists are sitting in a room that was specially built for the occasion.

Salah Abdeslam in court on Wednesday.

Image: keystone

It is pleasantly cool in the elongated room; but in the back, where the victims sit, the distant defendants cannot be seen behind the reflective Plexiglas panes. 14 perpetrators are present, six others on the run or dead. All of them are accused of terrorist machinations, which says life imprisonment. Some were shaved, while others grew their hair and beards while in custody.

The subject of the crime suicide belt

Also Salah Abdeslam, the main defendant, the sole survivor of the Bataclan Command. The now 31-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent should explain in the course of the almost nine-month trial whether he did not ignite the suicide belt – or whether it did not go off because of a defect. That could affect the sentence. But will Abdeslam even testify at his interrogation, which is scheduled for November?

The process takes place under great security precautions.

The process takes place under great security precautions.

Image: keystone

The start of the negotiations raises doubts. Abdeslam gets up as he is told to give the court his personal details. But only to declare: “I testify here that there is no other deity than Allah.” Then he says his name, but not that of his parents: “They have nothing to do here,” says the now bearded man, of whom the French only know a mug shot with a clean-shaven boy’s face. The president of the court asks further, but Abdeslam is silent. Only when asked about his profession does he explain:

“I gave up my job to become a fighter for the Islamic State.”

The only time that afternoon is a murmur through the hall. Abdeslam does not distance himself from his previous employers in Syria, he openly avows himself to the terrorist militia. Connoisseurs claim that he only does this because he is seen in his circles as a coward who is incapable of suicide bombings. The criminologist Alain Bauer had stated before the trial began that there was a risk that Abdeslam would abuse the court as a platform for self-justification.

That would be an affront to the many Bataclan and other victims who had previously declared that they came to the court hearings to “understand”. What is there to understand? In the previous days, the French television stations had brought harrowing portraits of the victims: A woman told how she had to wait for hours in the Bataclan in fear of death over her executed husband; another appeared brave after a large part of the lower half of her face was shot away, which has already resulted in 40 operations. Most survivors feel guilty for surviving; others still suffer from other post-traumatic symptoms six years later.

The answer of democracy

And you, these innocent civilians, should now listen to the IS drivel of a radicalized petty criminal for months? The newspaper Le Monde defends the trial as “democracy’s answer” to terror. Ex-President François Hollande, who was in office in 2015 and will testify in court in November, has also stated that he prefers the rule of law to a French “Guantanamo”.

The President of the Court, Périès, asks everyone involved in the process to “maintain their dignity”. He calls on the fourteen defendants present individually to answer only to questions and otherwise remain silent. Abdeslam does not seem to feel concerned; he just looks into the void as if none of this was any of his business.

Flowers at the Bataclan: heads of state mourn the victims

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Flowers at the Bataclan: heads of state mourn the victims

which: epa / reuters / philippe wojazer / pool

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