The long-awaited trial of 20 men charged over the 2015 coordinated attacks that killed 130 people across Paris has opened in the French capital.
Key defendant Salah Abdeslam is believed to be the only surviving member of the group of nine gunmen and suicide bombers who struck within minutes of each other at several locations – including restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium – on November 13, 2015.
Abdeslam appeared in court dressed in black and wearing a black face mask, obligatory because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asked what his profession was, the 31-year-old removed his face mask and told the high court Paris court defiantly: “I gave up my job to become an Islamic State (ISIL) soldier.”
The other suspects are accused of helping to provide guns and cars or playing a role in organising the attacks, in which hundreds were also wounded.
Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by ISIL, which had urged followers to attack France over its involvement in the fight against the group in Iraq and Syria.
Anxious and waiting
The trial will last nine months, with about 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers taking part in what Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has called an unprecedented judicial marathon. The court’s top judge, Jean-Louis Peries, said it was a historic trial.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said hundreds of witnesses are expected to testify over the course of the trial, including survivors.
Survivors and relatives of the victims have said they were impatient to hear testimony that might help them better understand what happened and why it did so.
Thomas Smette, a survivor of the Bataclan attack, told Al Jazeera he is anxious about the trial, but hopes that his testimony will help others.
“The only thing I can do, perhaps, is to help others say, like I do, ‘I can be OK’, and that motivates me to testify,” he said.
Lawyer Samia Maktouf told Al Jazeera it had been a long wait to justice for the victims.
“To be honest, from my own experience, victims cannot put all this behind them. It is very difficult, but it can help them to know that after six long years, there is a trial and this trial is important.”
Philippe Duperron, whose 30-year-old son Thomas was killed in the attacks, said it was important that victims “can bear witness, can tell the perpetrators, the suspects who are on the stand, about the pain”.
“We are also awaiting anxiously because we know that as this trial takes place the pain, the events, everything will come back to the surface,” said Duperron, who is the president of a victims’ association and will testify at the trial.