Lives and livelihoods: backgrounds of Paris attacks suspects come to the fore

·3-min read

Friday was the 40th day of hearings in the trial of those suspected of involvement in the November 2015 Paris attacks which cost the lives of 131 people. The investigation into the personalities of the final four accused was completed, but only three of the suspects appeared before the court.

Ahmed Dhamani was the last to be mentioned. His personality was briefly sketched by the court president, Jean-Louis Périès.

Dhamani himself is in a Turkish prison, having been arrested in the Mediterranean city of Antalya, where he arrived on a flight from Amsterdam on 14 November 2015, the day after the Paris attacks.

Dhamani is, perhaps, fortunate that only his Belgian police record -12 convictions, predominantly for driving offences - was exposed to the special criminal court.

Because his telephone contacts suggest that he was a key organiser of the Paris massacres and of other Islamic State attacks elsewhere in Europe.

He was arrested in Turkey because of his involvement with a gang of people smugglers preying on refugees from the Syrian conflict.

The Turkish authorities refused a French request for Dhamani to be allowed attend this Paris trial.

Happy childhoods, adult misfortunes

The day's other suspects appeared in person.

The stories followed the pattern already established: all three had happy, balanced childhoods in poor but loving families. All three failed to capitalise on early promise.

Hashish and minor criminality ensured a descent into the Brussels underworld.

Ali Oulkadi, suspected of having helped Salah Abdeslam avoid arrest on the self-declared terrorist's return to Belgium in the wake of the 2015 attacks, gave up a promising career as an electrician with a public transport company after a fire in his uninsured Brussels home left him obliged to pay a proportion of his earnings to others whose property was damaged in the fire.

Fahrid Kharkach, the man who admits having provided fake identity papers to some of the Paris attackers, without knowing they were terrorists, related a life ravaged by bad luck.

He ran a car repair and sales business in Brussels. Things went well. Kharkach bought two luxury motors, intending to refurbish them for resale.

Driving one of the vehicles back to his workshop, followed by a friend at the wheel of the other, he stopped at a red light. The friend did not. Both vehicles were written off.

Asked about his mental health in prison, Fahrid Kharkach replied that he had had a very good relationship with a Belgian prison psychologist, since dead.

"I'm plagued by bad luck," he told the court with a sad smile. "I even killed my psychologist."

Ali Haddad Assoufi, suspected of having provided the weapons used in the Paris attacks, had the standard happy childhood, marred by the death of his father when Assoufi was just six years old.

His brushes with the police were all linked to driving offences, "a misfortune for a professional deliveryman", as the court president wryly remarked.

Assoufi has also had major problems with cannabis, especially during periods of unemployment.

Before the court, he was polite and cooperative, with the occasional sharp return of a dangerous darkness.

Various character witnesses have described him as "a leader, not a follower". He describes himself as neither one nor the other. "I'm normal."

Despite his description of his current imprisonment in solitary confinement as "extremely difficult", Ali Haddad Assoufi has been described by the French prison authorities as an "irreproachable" detainee.

The trial continues.

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