Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in a rampage that killed 130 people in coordinated attacks across Paris in November 2015, has told a French court he has never killed or wounded anyone.
Abdeslam, 32, said on Wednesday he supported the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) and that it was undeniable that he had been on the path to becoming a fighter.
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He did not say, however, whether he was involved in the coordinated gun and bomb attacks that were the deadliest in post-war France and sent shockwaves across Europe.
“I wanted to say today that I didn’t kill anyone, and I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t even make a scratch,” Abdeslam told the court under questioning.
“It’s important for me to say this, because, since the beginning of this case, people have not stopped slandering me.”
French-Moroccan Abdeslam was believed to be the only surviving member of the commando team thought to have carried out the gun and bomb attacks on six restaurants and bars, the Bataclan concert hall and the national football stadium.
He was alone among the 20 defendants to be directly accused of murder, attempted murder and hostage-taking. Investigators believed his explosive vest malfunctioned and that he fled the French capital in the hours after the attack.
Abdeslam sought to distance himself from the team of assassins who were all killed in the wake of the attacks, appearing to imply that he had had a last-minute change of mind.
“In the future, when someone gets in a metro or a bus with a suitcase stuffed with 50 kilogrammes of explosives, and at the last minute, decides, ‘I’m not doing this,’ he will know that he can’t because otherwise he will be locked away or killed,” he said.
Abdeslam has not yet been questioned on his alleged role in the attacks. He has never publicly expressed remorse for the blood spilled on the night of November 13, 2015.
He faces life in jail if found guilty. Six of the suspects are being tried in absentia.
The questioning that begins Wednesday will focus initially on Abdeslam’s background and events before the attacks. Prosecutors have already established that he spent much of his youth as a pot-smoking fan of nightclubs and casinos.
But they are seeking information on his brother Brahim, who travelled to Syria in early 2015 and detonated his suicide belt in a bar during the Friday night attack in Paris; and on Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged ringleader who was killed by police a few days later.
Abdeslam’s mother, sister and ex-fiancee had also been scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday, but the presiding judge informed the court that they would not be coming, without giving further details.
ISIL had targeted Paris to compel then-President Francois Hollande to end French military interventions against the group in Syria and Iraq, Abdeslam said.
“It’s his fault that we are here today,” Abdeslam said of Hollande.
“They responded to the aggression of France and the West. If they killed civilians, it was to make an impression.”
Abdeslam told the court he had never travelled to Syria but that he admired ISIL members’ willingness to sacrifice themselves daily.
“I am not a danger to society,” he said.