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Main Paris attacks suspect apologises to ‘all victims’ at the end of testimony

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Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving member of the jihadist team that carried out the November 2015 Paris attacks, apologised on Friday to the victims at the end of his testimony during an extraordinary trial at the Special Assize Court of Paris. 

“I wish to express my condolences and offer an apology to all the victims,” Abdeslam told the court in a sometimes tearful statement.

“I know that hatred remains… I ask you today that you hate me with moderation,” he said, adding: “I ask you to forgive me.”

The comments marked a dramatic end to three days of testimony by Abdeslam, 32, who in the initial stages of the trial had maintained a rigid silence apart from occasional outbursts against the court.

Abdeslam is the main trial suspect in the extraordinary November 2015 attacks trial after the other jihadists were all killed during or in the wake of the attacks.

One of his defence lawyers, Olivia Ronen, during cross examination of her client, asked him if he did not regret carrying out his plan until the end.

“I don’t regret it. I didn’t kill these people and I didn’t die,” he replied.

“I would like to say today that this story of November 13 was written with the blood of the victims. It is their story, and I was part of it,” he added. 

“They are linked to me and I am linked to them,” he said in a quivering voice, before issuing his apology.

Addressing the wounded and those who lost loved ones: “I know this (the apology) is not going to heal you.

“But if it can do you any good, if I could do any good for one of the victims, then for me it’s a victory.”

The attackers killed 130 people in suicide bombings and shootings at the Stade de France stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and on street terraces of bars and restaurants on November 13, 2015, in France’s worst peacetime atrocity.

Last minute change of mindDuring his testimony on Wednesday, Abdeslam told the court that he changed his mind about going through with the killings at the last moment.

“The objective I was given was to go to a cafe in the 18th” district in northern Paris, said Abdeslam.

“I’m going into the cafe, I’m ordering a drink, I’m looking at the people around me – and I said to myself: ‘No, I’m not going to do it’,” he added.

Abdeslam said he was told about plans for the attack in Paris on November 11, two days before they were carried out.

That happened at a meeting in Charleroi, in Belgium, with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is accused of having masterminded the attacks. Abaaoud was killed in a raid by French special forces in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. 

Until then, said Abdeslam, he thought he was going to be sent to Syria. Instead, he was told he had been chosen to carry out an attack using an explosive belt.

“It was a shock for me, but he ended up by convincing me,” he added.

“I ended up accepting and saying, ‘Okay, I’ll go ahead with it’.”

But at that meeting, he was given no details about the targets for the attack.

When he ultimately did not go through with the attack, he told the court how he took his car and drove around Paris at random until it broke down.

Then he got out and walked, he said, saying his memories of that period were “confused”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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