Paris in high-security lockdown as Bataclan ‘bomber’ goes on trial

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Bataclan concert hall, Paris  (AFP/Getty Images)
Bataclan concert hall, Paris (AFP/Getty Images)

A vast security operation swung into operation in Paris on Wednesday as an intended ISIS suicide bomber who survived the most murderous terrorist attack in the city’s history prepared to appear in court.

Salah Abdeslam, 31, has admitted discarding a belt full of explosives rather than blowing himself up on the night of the Bataclan attack on November 13, 2015.

It was the Friday night when nine other members of an ISIS cell, including his brother Brahim Abdeslam, killed 130 people, and wounded more than 400 more.

Abdeslam was arrested after being shot by police in a dramatic raid in Brussels after four months on the run following the Paris attacks.

On Wednesday morning he was removed from his cell at Fleury-Mérogis prison, in the southern Paris suburbs, where he is under 24-hour video surveillance.

Abdeslam was then driven in an armed convoy to a specially built Assizes in central Paris, where specialist anti-terrorist judges will adjudicate.

“The prisoner was removed from prison shortly after 9am so as to be driven into central Paris,” said a police spokesman.

“There are hundreds of military and police involved in the security operation, both on the journey, and around the court.”

Special Forces officers brandishing machine guns surrounded the prison before motor-cycle outriders led the convoy including a white prison services van containing prisoner number 444806.

During the 40-minute drive to court, Abdeslam was accompanied by his defence barrister Olivia Ronen, who said ensuring a fair trial was her priority.

“There’s no compromise possible in defence,” said Ms Ronen. “Whatever the case, we give one hundred per cent. This entails not being afraid of displeasing or shocking people.”

Abdeslam will appears in the dock along with 13 other men who are alleged to have helped with the slaughter, while six others will be tried in absentia.

Five of them are thought to have been killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, while a sixth is in prison in Turkey.

Abdeslam, who is a French citizen who grew up in Belgium, is already three years into a 20- year-prison sentence for attempted murder.

This sentence relates to a shoot-out he had with Brussels police before his capture four months after the Paris attacks.

Beyond preparing to attack the Stade de France, where France were playing Germany in a football friendly, Abdeslam also allegedly rented cars and hideouts for the ISIS cell.

Abdeslam’s childhood friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was shot dead by police, was the suspected on-the-ground coordinator of the Paris slaughter.

Earlier defence lawyers all quit because of Abdeslam’s reluctance to communicate with them.

Sven Mary, his former counsel in Belgium, said: “He has the intelligence of an empty ashtray. He’s extraordinarily vacuous.”

Mr Mary added: “I asked him if he had read the Koran, and he replied that he had researched it on the Internet.”

In Paris, Abdeslam faces numerous charges including “participating in murders in an organised gang connected to a terrorist enterprise”.

Victims in Paris included Englishman Nick Alexander, 31, from Weeley, Essex, who died in the Bataclan music venue.

Matthieu Chirez, a lawyer for 21 Bataclan survivors from the UK and Ireland, said the trial, which is scheduled to last for nine months, would be “a search for the truth”.

The trial is due to start at midday on Wednesday and last until May.

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