Emotions run high before Paris trial for ISIS carnage

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PARIS – For the music lover, he spent nearly three hours at gunpoint, wondering if he was going to become yet another body on the floor of the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

For the grieving mother, the night of the carnage robbed her of her son and tarnished her vision of the vibrant neighborhood they both loved.

For the French president, a celebration of the national football team has turned into sleepless days to deal with a shocking extremist attack.

The survivors of the attack by the Islamic State group in Paris on the night of November 13, 2015 and those who mourn the 130 dead, are preparing for the long-awaited trial and hope for justice to be served.

It begins Wednesday in a modern secure complex integrated into the original 13th century courthouse in Paris. The main chamber and 12 overflow rooms can accommodate 1,800 victims, 330 lawyers and 141 accredited journalists for the nine-month trial.

“The reaction to that, afterwards, was to try to take back control of our lives and do things that we might not have done before, because we didn’t have time to waste. “he told The Associated Press.

On that fateful November 13, a cell of nine IS supporters armed with automatic rifles and explosive vests struck across the French capital. Almost all were from France or Belgium, as was the 10th cell member and only survivor, Salah Abdeslam.

Abdeslam, who abandoned his car and faulty explosive vest, is the only defendant facing murder charges in the trial. Another key accused, Mohammed Abrini, reappeared months later in footage of the ISIS attack on Brussels airport and metro.

Most of the assailants who died, as well as Abdesalam and Abrini, were childhood friends from the Brussels district of Molenbeek. Some have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, including the leader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Driving three rental cars, they took their “death convoy” to the motorway between Brussels and Paris on November 12, 2015, and dispersed to reserved hotel rooms.

The next day, the German and French soccer teams faced off at the Stade de France, the country’s national stadium just outside Paris.

It was a balmy Friday night and the bars and restaurants in town were packed. Victor Muñoz, 25, from the 11th arrondissement of Paris, was with old friends. In the neighboring concert hall of the Bataclan, the American group Eagles of Death Metal played in front of a full house, including Toutlouyan, a live rock enthusiast.

The noise of the first suicide bombing at 9:16 p.m. barely exceeded the noise of the stadium crowd. The second arrived four minutes later. French President Francois Hollande, during the football match with the German Foreign Minister, was informed of the death of suicide bombers outside.

“I stayed in my seat for a few minutes to avoid a panic effect. People see me from their seats, and they cannot make the connection between the detonations and my departure, or there is a risk of being jostled, ”Hollande told Le Parisien this month.

By this time, a squad of armed men including Abdeslam’s brother and Abaaoud had opened fire on La Bonne Bière and other bars and restaurants in the area. Muñoz was among the dead.

This bloodshed outside ended at 9:41 p.m. at Café Voltaire when Brahim Abdeslam detonated his explosives. The other two attackers fled.

Worse was to follow. At 9.47 p.m., three other armed men burst into the Bataclan, firing indiscriminately. Ninety people died within minutes. The armed men pointed at a dozen people, including Toutlouyan. To this day, he does not know why they were spared.

“We stood behind a window for two and a half hours, watching what was going on, wandering around if they were going to shoot us in five minutes, two hours or two days. At that time, and for two and a half hours, we were not in control of our life, ”he said.

Their instructions: report the locations of the police, then act as an intermediary during sporadic negotiations. Shortly after midnight, Hollande gave the order to move in. Two of the gunmen blew themselves up; the third was shot dead by the police.

Now there are questions that only the men at the helm can answer.

Abdeslam’s decision to ditch the Renault Clio in northern Paris and call on Brussels for help is an enigma. Two friends drove through the night to look for him, and on his way back to Belgium he escaped three police checkpoints.

Abdeslam was finally arrested in his Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek in March, days before the IS network attacked Brussels airport and metro, killing 32 other people.

Abrini’s role is also murky. He spent a night with the IS attackers, but left Paris on November 12, hiring a driver to take him back to Brussels for three hours because he had missed the last train. He reappeared in Brussels months later, accompanying two suicide bombers to the airport, but walked away as the bloodshed began.

Two of the defendants are accused of planning a simultaneous attack at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in 2015 and went to the airport on November 13, but returned to Brussels for unknown reasons. Abdeslam’s car also idled for a while that day at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

In the aftermath of the murderous evening, a Frenchman in Syria claimed responsibility for the attacks on behalf of ISIS.

Abaaoud and another attacker died a few days later in a police raid.

Abdeslam refused to speak to investigators or his lawyers in Belgium. But he asked for a young lawyer in France known for her eloquence, Olivia Ronen. She will be his main lawyer.

For many victims, speaking out is essential. One month is devoted to their testimonies.

“It’s really the participation that is important to them,” said Jeanne Sulzer, lawyer representing 10 victims. “What they are looking for is the establishment of truth, of justice.”

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Alex Turnbull contributed to this report.


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