ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the opening of the trial of the Bataclan terror attack in Paris
The lone survivor of the 2015 Bataclan terror attack has declared he is “a fighter for Islamic State” at the opening of the trial of 20 men accused of being involved in the massacre that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured.
It was the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II and among the worst terror attacks to hit the West.
Survivors of the attacks and the relatives of the victims are expected to pack into a secure complex embedded in special rooms designed to be protected from attack within a historical 13th-century courthouse in the heart of Paris.
The lone survivor of the extremist cell from that night, Salah Abdeslam, is the key defendant.
Abdeslam, whose brother was among the suicide bombers that night, appeared wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and black trousers, his long hair tied back.
He was the first asked to identify himself and, after intoning a prayer, requested to state his profession, declared he was “a fighter for Islamic State.”
Abdeslam is the only one charged with murder.
The same IS network that orchestrated the Bataclan attacks went on to strike Brussels months later, killing another 32 people.
The presiding judge, Jean-Louis Peries, acknowledged the extraordinary nature of the attacks, which changed security in Europe and France’s political landscape, and the trial to come.
France only emerged from the state of emergency declared in the wake of the attacks in 2017, after incorporating many of the harshest measures into law.
“The events that we are about to decide are inscribed in their historic intensity as among the international and national events of this century,” he said.
Dominique Kielemoes, whose son bled to death at one of the cafes that night, said the month dedicated to victims’ testimonies at the trial will be crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation.
“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people. But it wasn’t a mass – these were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations, and that we need to talk about at the trial. It’s important,” she said,
Twenty men are charged, but six of them will be tried in absentia.
Abdeslam, who abandoned his rental car in northern Paris and discarded a malfunctioning suicide vest before fleeing home to Brussels, has refused to speak to investigators.
He holds the answers to many of the remaining questions about the attack and the people who planned it, both in Europe and abroad.
The modern courtroom was constructed within the storied 13th-century Palais de Justice in Paris, where Marie Antoinette and Emile Zola faced trial, among others.
For the first time, victims can also have a secure audio link to listen from home if they want, with a 30-minute delay.
The trial is scheduled to last nine months.
September will be dedicated to laying out the police and forensic evidence.
October will be given over to victims’ testimony.
None of the proceedings will be televised or rebroadcast to the public, but they will be recorded for archival purposes.
Video recording has only been allowed for a handful of cases in France considered to be of historical value, including last year’s trial over the 2015 attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and a kosher supermarket.
From November to December, officials including former French president Francois Hollande will give evidence, as will relatives of the attackers.
Hollande said on Wednesday he would speak “not for the sake of French politics, but for the victims of the attacks.” He said he keenly felt the weight of responsibility that night and for the days and weeks later in the aftermath of the attack.
“When the cameras are turned off, you go back to the solitude of the Elysée (presidential palace),” Hollande told France-Info. “You ask what can I do? ... Is what just happened going to change society?”