The trial over the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France’s worst-ever terror assault, heard the beginning of closing arguments Wednesday by the three leading prosecutors in the case.
For three days, the prosecutors will detail their version of the events on November 13, 2015, when 130 people died at the Bataclan concert hall and elsewhere in shootings that traumatised the country.
In accordance with French court procedure, the prosecutors will then lay out their assessment of the level of guilt of each accused and finally, on Friday, recommend sentencing.
In the dock is Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the Islamist attackers who opened fire in the packed concert hall and on cafe terraces in adjacent streets, as well as at the Stade de France sports arena.
Also on trial are 19 others accused of various degrees of assistance to the killers.
Twelve, including Abdeslam, face sentences of up to life in prison, the maximum punishment under French law.
“What will we remember from this trial? What images? What words?” prosecutor Camille Hennetier asked as she delivered her closing remarks in what is France’s biggest trial ever, which started in September 2021.
“Your verdict, of course,” she said.
“And the names of the dead that were read out in September. The testimony of the survivors. And finally, without a doubt, the cruelty of the terrorists who fired again and again and took pleasure in killing.”
The length of the trial, its emotional charge and the number of plaintiffs — 2,500 — have made it the most impactful legal proceeding in French history.
Six suspects are being tried in absentia, including five leading Islamic State members presumed dead in Syria.
The questioning aimed to investigate how the attacks were planned and carried out, “but much remains in the dark,” Hennetier said.
“The answers are here in the dock. Most of the accused know. They know everything and have never spoken, and probably will never answer,” but prosecutors are going to “put together the puzzle.”
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Frenchman who was arrested in Belgium after five months on the run, kept silent during the police investigation but started talking during the trial, explaining how he gave up plans to blow himself up, and apologised to victims.
But his tearful appeal for forgiveness had little impact on the prosecutors, who do not believe that Abdeslam really changed his mind about the attack. Instead, they say, his explosive belt simply malfunctioned.
Prosecutors also said the accused’s claim that he was recruited by a jihadist cell only a few days before the attacks was “strange” and “illogical”.
Abdeslam risks life in prison without parole, a verdict pronounced only rarely in France and which all but rules out any later reduction of his sentence.
Most prisoners on life sentences in France are released after 20 to 25 years.
Closing arguments by the defence lawyers start next week, and the verdicts are scheduled for June 29.