The day was already well advanced, two defendants questioned at length, when the trial of the attacks of November 13 experienced a dramatic turn of events on Wednesday. Sweeping away his silence from the previous time, the last living member of the terrorist commandos went to the table for his fourth and final interrogation before the specially composed assize court. Pale complexion, slicked back hair and brown beard, Salah Abdeslam, 32, first wanted to explain his about-face: “If I made use of my right to silence, it is because I did not feel listened to. Since the beginning of this case, we don’t want to see the person that I really am, we have had this image made of me in the media for six years. Now I backtrack. I will express myself, because it is the last time that I will be able to do it., promises, in front of the many civil parties, the accused having removed his mask. One thinks of this sentence of his childhood friend, Mohamed Abrini, who had also been prolific during one of his interrogations – “Drop the masks!”
If the agenda initially focused on the aftermath of November 13, on his run from cache to cache, until his arrest on March 18, 2016 in Molenbeek, Salah Abdeslam proposes to “go back”. The court therefore immerses itself, for two hours, in a catch-up session on the scenes of this murderous night. In a calm and constant voice, the accused, whose face was faded by fatigue and the fasting of Ramadan, pours out his last-minute renunciation in a bar in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, this “goal” spotted the same morning with his eldest Brahim. It was there, in this café whose name he kept silent, that he gave up his «mission»just after depositing “late” the three suicide bombers of the Stade de France. “I’m going to go into this café, I’m going to order a drink, I’m going to look at the people around me, and there, I say to myself: “I’m not going to do it.”» So Salah Abdeslam leaves, takes the wheel of this black Clio, which will be found at Place Albert Kahn in the 18th century. “I was in a state, I don’t have the words, I didn’t know what to do.” He drives, drives until the car breaks down. His memories on the sequel are more “confused”. He remembers having “walked, took a taxi, bought a laptop, threw the belt [explosive]but I don’t know in what order”.
“There were young people, very young people”
A little earlier, the Frenchman had recounted his meeting, on the night of November 11 to 12, with the operational leader of these attacks which caused the death of 131 people. “And there, Abdelhamid Abaaoud will explain the project to me, that attacks will take place in France. He doesn’t give me the targets, he just tells me that I’m going to wear an explosive belt and blow myself up. When he said to me: “You are going to blow yourself up”, it was a shock for me, I did not know how to react”, unfolds the accused in a striped polo shirt, who will eventually accept. Because “in [sa] head”, Salah Abdeslam still hopes to join Syria. Even if his brother Brahim explained to him a few months earlier that he is “risked leaving”, what “the fighting rages on” and that it would be better for him “to stay here and [l]’help to work’. A job that consisted of transporting members of the jihadist cell, in rented sedans, on trips across Europe.
Why this coffee in particular? asks an assessor. “The Islamic State wanted to inflict only what it suffered. People went to the café, to the mosque or to see their families and were killed in bombardments., advances Salah Abdeslam, serving the usual propaganda of the terrorist organization. But to the magistrate who insists on the springs of her defection, the one who affirms today “say [sa] truth” precise : “There were young people, very young people. I saw these people dancing, laughing. I gave up out of humanity, not out of fear. They were young people, they were younger than me, I didn’t want to kill them.” The little brother of the Comptoir Voltaire suicide bomber then describes the moment when he abandoned his explosive vest in “a fairly discreet place” in Montrouge (Hauts-de-Seine), this moment when he “remove it, remove the push button, the battery, the detonator”.
Not knowing where to go “total confusion”the last living member of the commandos calls “everyone”in particular a friend from Molenbeek, Mohamed Amri, whose number he knows “by heart”. This waiter at the Béguines café will eventually pick it up in the early morning with Hamza Attou, dealer for the boss Brahim Abdeslam, to bring it back to Brussels. The beginning of a long run for the one who claims to have felt “lost” : “At that time, I no longer know what to think, I realize the magnitude of the events.” Thursday, April 14, the interrogation of Salah Abdeslam will continue with questions from the national anti-terrorism prosecution and lawyers. Hoping that the accused, accustomed to ambivalence and provocations, does not change his attitude. To President Jean-Louis Périès who suggested resuming the hearing tomorrow, he himself confessed: “You never know what to expect with me. Sometimes I talk, sometimes I don’t.