Man on Trial for 2015 Paris Attacks Says Targeting Civilians 'Not Personal' But Payback

A man on trial for involvement in the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 innocent people said that it was "nothing personal" against the victims, but payback for airstrikes conducted by France against the Islamic State group, the Associated Press reported.

Salah Abdeslam, the leading defendant in the trial, was part of a group of Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen who coordinated attacks at several Paris locations within minutes of each other on November 13, 2015. The attackers targeted the national soccer stadium, people at cafes and the Bataclan concert hall, carrying out the deadliest strike on France since World War II and one of the worst terror attacks ever seen by the West, the AP reported.

Abdeslam became the only survivor among the group of attackers when his vest malfunctioned and he fled to Brussels, Belgium, his hometown. The defendant wore all black in the custom-built courtroom and did not remove his mask, yet recognized the part he played in the deadly attacks for the first time after remaining silent throughout the investigation, according to the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Wanted Notice for Salah Abdeslam
Salah Abdeslam, who is on trial for involvement in the 2015 Paris, said that it was "nothing personal" against the 130 people killed. Police officers stand next to the wanted notice of Abdeslam, left, and Mohamed Abrini on December 3, 2015 at the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, outside Paris. Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, a screen in the courtroom showed a photo of the car Abdeslam abandoned in northern Paris after he dropped off the three suicide bombers at the national stadium. Abdeslam's target was unclear, but when Islamic State claimed responsibility the next day, the statement alluded to an attack in the neighborhood where he left the car that never took place.

The two people Abdeslam called upon to drive through the night from Brussels to Paris to pick him up are among the 20 on trial. Six of those are being tried in absentia.

Abdeslam, who was arrested months after the attacks, said the killings were a response to French airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. France was part of the international coalition that formed as the extremists conquered vast territory in both countries.

"We fought France, we attacked France, we targeted the civilian population. It was nothing personal against them," Abdeslam said. "I know my statement may be shocking, but it is not to dig the knife deeper in the wound but to be sincere toward those who are suffering immeasurable grief."

The same network struck the Brussels airport and subway system in March 2016, killing another 32 people. Among those on trial in Paris is Mohammed Abrini, who left the city the night before the 2015 attacks and took part in the Brussels one. He acknowledged a role on Wednesday.

"I recognize my participation...[but] in this evil that happened in France, I am neither the commander nor the architect. I provided no logistical nor financial help," Abrini said.

The specter of the man who was the architect of the attacks, the late Abdelhamid Abaaoud, loomed large in the first days of the trial.

The courtroom saw him in a video escaping into the metro. An investigator testified that he was on the phone to the attackers and to someone in Brussels throughout the assaults.

Antiterrorism investigators spotted Abaaoud in surveillance video walking into the Paris metro with another of the gunmen. They recognized Abaaoud by his fluorescent orange shoes—and it was a key moment in the case.

"As soon as we see this video, it changes everything because we realize there are still at least two terrorists still alive," the investigator testified. His name was not released publicly, as is common in French antiterrorism trials.

Abaaoud and the remaining gunman died days later in a police shootout and suicide explosion.

The same investigator also testified to the devastation that officials felt as the attacks unfolded.

"The sentiment we had that evening at the Bataclan was one of failure. ...I'm not sure we had the means to prevent everything. But when we went into the Bataclan that was the feeling," he said.

Paris Terror Attacks Tribute
A coordinated series of gun and bomb attacks at several sites in Paris on November 13 , 2015, left 130 dead. This picture taken on December 24, 2015 shows a globe and roses on a makeshift memorial at Place de la Republique in Paris on December 24, 2015 to pay tribute to the victims of the November 13 terror attacks. Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images