Paris attacks suspect tells trial he’s an Islamic State soldier

PARIS, Sept 8 (Reuters) – A French-Moroccan believed to be the only surviving member of a group that killed 130 people in a rampage across Paris described himself on Wednesday as “an Islamic State soldier” at the start of the trial into the 2015 attacks.

Salah Abdeslam appeared in court dressed in black and with a black face mask, one of 20 men accused of involvement in attacks by gunmen in suicide vests on six restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium on Nov. 13, 2015.

Police mounted tight security around the Palais de Justice courthouse in central Paris, with defendants due to appear being a reinforced glass partition in a purpose-built courtroom.

Asked what his profession was, Abdeslam, 31, told the court: “I gave up my job to become an Islamic State soldier. I want to testify that there is no god except Allah and that Mohammad is his servant,” he said.

Abdeslam is widely reported to have remained silent during the investigation.

Earlier defence lawyers all quit because of Abdeslam’s reluctance to communicate with them. 

Sven Mary, his former counsel in Belgium, said: ‘He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray. He’s extraordinarily vacuous.’ Mr Mary added: ‘I asked him if he had read the Koran, and he replied that he had researched it on the Internet’.

Most of the accused face life imprisonment if convicted. The other suspects are accused of helping to provide guns and cars or playing a role in organising the attacks.

The first days of the trial are expected to be largely procedural, with plaintiffs being registered, though judges may read a summary of how the attacks unfolded. 

Matthieu Chirez, a lawyer for 21 Bataclan survivors from the UK and Ireland, said the trial, which is scheduled to last for nine months, would be ‘a search for the truth’. 

Victims’ testimonies are set to start on Sept.28, with one week devoted to the attacks on the Stade de France and cafes, and four to the Bataclan.

The questioning of the accused will start in November but they are not set to be questioned on the night of the attacks and the week before them until March.

A verdict is expected in late May.