France looks her monsters in the face again. And to reopen wounds that have not yet healed. Almost six years after the wave of attacks in Paris that, on November 13, 2015, left 130 dead and hundreds injured, the trial of those accused of the most serious jihadist attack in France begins this Wednesday in the same city. and one of the worst in Europe. The “trial of the century” is also being held amid the upsurge in the Islamist threat following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, which experts say could embolden extremists around the world. In the minds of many French people there is also the horror revived just a year ago, when France suffered a new wave of attacks, including the brutal beheading of a high school teacher, Samuel Paty, after the beginning of another key process of that terrible 2015: the trial for the attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket, also in Paris.
The 13-N will be a colossal process in every sense: there have been five years of investigation that have left 542 volumes of file and a 348-page indictment. The 1,765 people of a score of nationalities who have become a civil party will be represented by 300 lawyers during the eight long months that the trial is estimated to last, in which terrorism and irregular immigration promise to be hot topics, since the process coincides with the presidential campaign. Among the many witnesses called to testify, there are high-ranking personalities such as the then French President, François Hollande, his Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, or the prosecutor of the time, François Molins.
A special court composed of nine magistrates will judge the 20 defendants, represented in turn by another thirty lawyers. Fourteen of the defendants will be present in the courtroom, while another six are tried in absentia (most of them are believed to have been killed in attacks in the Syrian-Iraqi zone). But the eyes will surely be directed towards one: Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor of the three commandos that on the night of November 13, six years ago, sowed, in an attack claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, panic again in the streets of Paris and in all the French.
The horror began at 9:16 p.m. on Friday the 13th when, near the Stade de France, where a friendly Germany-France was played in the presence of President Hollande and with more than 80,000 people in the stands, a kamikaze exploded the vest with explosives that he carried. Shortly after, the phones began to ring in all the French instances: shots and explosions had been registered in other parts of Paris, a downtown bar area and in the Bataclan concert hall.
It will not be easy for the victims and their families to look Abdeslam and the other defendants in the face. Some will not even be able to attend the trial, warns Samia Maktouf, a lawyer for some 40 victims, including a Spaniard who was in Le Carillon, one of the five bars and terraces attacked by one of the terrorist commandos. “The victims are not doing well at all. Many of my clients are very affected physically and psychologically, and also financially ”, he says from his office in Paris.
Like only 12 other previous trials, including that of Charlie Hebdo or that of the Nazi Klaus Barbie in 1987, the process will be filmed and kept in the National Archives for posterity. In addition, an online connection service has been established so that victims who are not able to attend the process in the old Palace of Justice on the Ile de la Cité, in the center of Paris, can follow it through an encrypted connection. Because everyone, present and absent, “wants the process to take place,” says Maktouf. “It is very important to them, it is absolutely essential that, after six long years, the trial in which they await be held,” he says, “a kind of recognition” as victims. Likewise, he adds, “they hope to understand, to know how it got there.”
For François Molins, the trial should also contribute to “participate in the construction of a collective memory both at the national and even European level, since it is our shared values that are attacked by this indiscriminate terrorism, these mass killings,” he says in a meeting with European journalists. That is why it is essential that the trial take place, due to the many wounds that it reopens. He himself says that what he saw that terrible night when he was one of the first authorities to visit the attacked places, haunts him to this day. “There are very strong images that I will never forget. The ones on the terraces and all those bodies lying on the ground. Those of the Bataclan, with that mass of bodies in the pit. And the sounds: the Bataclan concert was being recorded and was not interrupted during the attack. The most terrible thing is that bursts of shots are heard, but also many separate shots. They are the executions ”, recalls with a somber gesture the current French Supreme Court attorney general in his office on the Quai des Horloges, just a few steps from the 700-square-meter room built in the Palace of Justice to celebrate the macro-trial.
The entire enclosure will be specially protected for the duration of the process, until the end of May. The Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, also called this week all those responsible for the country’s security to a “high level of vigilance” in the face of a potential terrorist threat “both exogenous and endogenous.” A precaution that, in view of the wave of attacks during the process of Charlie Hebdo last year, it is not trivial, considers Molins. “The threat [terrorista] it has evolved, but as the head of the intelligence services said, ‘the beast has not died,’ “he says. “The Islamic State no longer has the capacity to project actors to carry out this type of action, but jihadism has undergone a metastasis: when you see the evolution in the Sahel, in East and West Africa, in Afghanistan, you see that the problem is not over. In addition, there is that ‘atmospheric jihadism’, as Gilles Kepel says, with people permeable to an ideology that continues to present France as the number one enemy of Islam and Muslims. The threat is still there ”.