Lone Surviving Extremist on Trial for Deadly Paris Attacks Recalls Close Ties to Family

The lone survivor of the Islamic State group extremists behind the November 2015 Paris attacks came under public questioning for the first time on Tuesday, speaking with a soft tone and reminiscing about days with his family.

Salah Abdeslam is one of 20 men on trial for the coordinated attacks that killed 130 people. He discarded his malfunctioning explosive vest and fled. All of his fellow attackers who detonated their vests or fired at people died that night.

Abdeslam spoke at the beginning of the trial, identifying his profession as "fighter for Islamic State," and saying the deaths of so many innocent people were "nothing personal."

On Tuesday, Abdeslam entered the public questioning with a softer posture.

Abdeslam spoke of one of his older brother, Brahim, who died the night of the attacks after detonating his explosive vest at a cafe. He also told the court about the rest of his family who visit him in prison and another brother who was fired from his municipal job after the attacks.

The men on trial are accused of helping the attackers with logistics or transportation, and six of the 20 men are being tried in absentia.

The hearing followed five weeks of testimony from attack survivors, grieving families and others affected by the attacks.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

 Salah Abdeslam
The lone survivor of the Islamic State group extremists behind the November 2015 attacks in Paris came under public questioning in France for the first time on Tuesday. Above, Salah Abdeslam in seen in the special courtroom built for the 2015 attacks trial on September 8, 2021, in Paris. Noelle Herrenschmidt/Associated Press

The testimony this week is laying out the psychological backgrounds of the defendants and started alphabetically with Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini, who was with the group of attackers until the night before the attack. Abrini was later detained in the aftermath of the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, carried out by an overlapping group of Islamic State extremists.

Abdeslam, a French citizen of Moroccan descent who was born and raised in Belgium, skipped from one job to the next after graduating from technical school, and racked up a series of convictions for traffic offenses and a burglary.

He had known nearly all those accused with him from the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, where he grew up. Abrini was his neighbor and among his closest friends. The two chat regularly on the sidelines of the trial.

"Molenbeek is small. Everyone knows each other," Abdeslam said. He described going out for drinks with multiple defendants, gambling and nights out at the disco.

"I was imbibed with Western values," he said. When pressed later, he said those values included "living like a libertine, without a thought for God. Doing what you want."

Abdeslam, who is imprisoned in solitary confinement, said he watched television periodically but primarily was interested in the brief sports activities he is permitted. His cell has two surveillance cameras.

"To live with cameras 24 hours a day, I can tolerate it, thanks to the Lord, but it's something that could push you to suicide," he said under questioning from his lawyer. "They were installed to keep me from suicide, but there is no privacy. Even animals are not treated like this."

Abrini also described a comfortable family life while growing up next door to Abdeslam and with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who led the 2015 attack, living nearby.

"We did not leave our mother's belly with a Kalashnikov," he said.