Salah Abdeslam is the man of contradiction in the case of the November 13 attacks in France

Is he an “ISIS fighter”? Or a troubled defendant apologizing to all the victims? During the nine months of his trial, Salah Abdeslam emerged as the “tenth man” in the November 13 attacks in Paris and its suburbs, Saint-Denis.

When the criminal trial began on September 8, 2021, the vengeful tone prevailed over Abd al-Salam’s speech. “I gave up all professions to become a fighter in the Islamic State,” said the bearded man in the black shirt.

On April 15, 2022, he spoke in a calm, trembling voice, and tears rolled down the pages of the only surviving member of the armed group that killed 130 people in Paris and Saint-Denis.

In his “last chance” to speak for himself, the 32-year-old Frenchman said he gave up blowing up his explosive belt “for humanitarian reasons” and urged victims to “hate him in moderation”.

Was this change a defense strategy, as the civil prosecution suspected, or was it a real development after weeks of controversy?

His lawyers, Olivia Ronen and Martin Fitts, said that “this trial allowed him to break the prejudice we had about him, which had been created during the six years of silence.”

Abd al-Salam, who remained silent for almost the entire investigation period, resumed speaking in the first hearings and sometimes had to have his microphone cut off to shut his mouth.

Salah Abdeslam used this as a way to denounce the conditions of his detention as “we are treated like dogs” or to justify the attacks. “We attacked France, we targeted the population,” he said, but there was “nothing personal,” “these terrorists, they are my brothers.”

The president cut off the microphone several times.

The accused appeared provocative and rude, offering the president of the court to “take a break” or to be described as “sensitive”. Within a few months, Abd al-Salam did not stop talking and softened his statements.

In response to court questions in the always-filled hall, his answers were brief when he spoke of the “simple life” of the past. “I was not dancing,” said the young rapist from Molenbeek in Brussels, where he frequents casinos and nightclubs.

On the night of November 13-14, 2015, he was carrying an explosive belt that did not explode. In a letter found by investigators and attributed to him, he confirmed that he wanted to “join my other brothers” and die as a “martyr”, but his explosive belt did not work.

He remained on the run for four months, despite being declared a dangerous wanted man and his photos were constantly published all over Europe.

But his pursuit ended on March 18, 2016, and he was arrested in the Cater van neighborhood in the Molenbeek area of ​​the Belgian capital, three days after an exchange of fire with police in Brussels.

The man was charged in France with terrorist attacks, and he has become the most monitored prisoner in France, and Fleury-Mérouge was placed in prison, south of Paris.

From his profile, Abd al-Salam seems to be a minor offense. He was convicted ten times of committing traffic offenses, acts of violence or attempted robbery in 2010 with his childhood friend Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, who became the coordinator of the November 13 attacks.

Neighbors say they enjoyed the big holidays, drank alcohol, smoked, went to casinos and often had “girlfriends”. He did not work, but stayed in cafes, especially that of his older brother Ibrahim, who was among the attackers on the balconies of Parisian restaurants.

He prayed sometimes, but not at the right time. By the end of 2014, he started talking about Syria, and suggested to his fiancée to go there. But she did not take it seriously because he spent “three quarters of his life” in nightclubs.

However, his relatives noticed that the two brothers, Abd al-Salam, began the “journey of the Islamic State”. They stopped drinking alcohol and became interested in religion. In the bar run by Ibrahimi, they gather to watch jihadist videos and “calls for war.”

In January 2015, police reported Abdeslam’s desire to leave. In February he was called to the police station to talk about Abd al-Hamid Abaaoud, who had left for Syria. He said he was a “good guy”, stressing that he had not met him in a long time.

In the same year, his travels through Europe intensified, to Greece in early August and then to Austria-Hungary, which was permeated by crowds of refugees fleeing Syria.

A few days before the attacks, he had dinner for the last time with his fiancée and cried a lot, she said, while his relatives thought he had gone skiing.

He cried a lot in the car that took him to Belgium on the night of November 13-14, due to the death of his “suicide” brother.

His “correct” mission remains a mystery and he mentioned it only once immediately after his arrest. “I wanted to blow myself up at the Stade de France, but I withdrew,” he said, but investigators believe his explosive belt was malfunctioning. “I would like to be one of the martyrs (…) I just want to be better prepared for the future,” he wrote in a letter attributed to him.

During his trial in Belgium where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a shootout with police prior to his arrest, he appeared as a staunch Islamist, as well as during his trial in France from the first day of September 8th.

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