At the specially composed Court of Assizes of Paris,
Over the course of these nine months of trial, the exercise sometimes appeared impossible, courageous, vain, necessary. This Friday, after 146 days of hearings, the two lawyers for Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the commandos of the November 13 attacks, were nevertheless forced to comply.
In a two-voice argument, Olivia Ronen and Martin Vettes torpedoed the “blind tidal wave” contained in the indictment of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT). Unsurprisingly, a few weeks earlier, the Advocates General had demanded against Abdeslam the maximum penalty incurred in France: irreducible life imprisonment. An “excessive” sentence based, according to the defense, on a “gross legal fiction”.
Neither “sociopathic” nor “enlightened”
By advancing first in front of the court, Me Martin Vettes warned: “Our job is to shake certainties. But before getting down to it, Salah Abdeslam’s two lawyers wanted to clarify the role and responsibilities fully endorsed by their client in the terrorist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis. “I can hear the critics from here: ‘The defense is surprised by a heavy sentence!’ Of course, we expect a heavy sanction for Salah Abdeslam. This one, and he recognizes it, brought his help to the Islamic State. He agreed to join the commandos and dropped off three men with explosive vests in front of the Stade de France,” recalled Olivia Ronen.
In an attempt to shed light on the motives of this accused, the prosecution oscillated, according to the two lawyers, between two readings: “Either Salah Abdeslam is a barbarian who is thirsty for blood, or he is a fanatic breaking with our values (…) Except that it does not fit into either of these two boxes, ”insists Martin Vettes. Responsible since 2018 for defending the 30-year-old, the two criminal lawyers delivered a completely different analysis to explain the “slippage” of this “little guy from Molenbeek” in “interim Daesh”. Neither “sociopath” nor “illuminated from the depths of the Middle Ages”, Salah Abdeslam was in 2015 “a young man completely of his time”. “Sensitive” according to the words addressed by his sister to the court, the former employee of a Brussels transport company “is indignant” in the face of images of the war in Syria. “The Islamic State has been able to capture this indignation and cultivate it,” continued Martin Vettes.
The thesis of renunciation
With aplomb, Olivia Ronen defended the thesis of the late recruitment of her client within the jihadist commandos. A simple comparison with the other members of the cell would testify to this difference. Salah Abdeslam is the only one who does not have a kunya – the Arabic nickname given to Islamic State recruits – he does not appear in the protest video released by Daesh and he is the only one who has not been to Syria .
More significantly still, according to her, Salah Abdeslam is the only one of the ten terrorists of November 13 to have given up that evening to activate his explosive belt. A “bite of conscience” accredited by the statements of the accused to one of his friends who came to pick him up on the night of the attacks and to whom Abdeslam had confided before backpedaling. “There are instructions given by the Islamic State: if the belt does not work, you must use a lighter (…) you can only be convinced that Salah Abdeslam has withdrawn and this essential data cannot what to weigh in your decision”, developed the lawyer.
A “terrible” and “cruel” punishment
Regretting that the word of their client is “worth nothing” in the eyes of the PNAT, Olivia Ronen and Martin Vettes have crushed the indictment of the three general attorneys. Judged as a “co-perpetrator” of the November 13 attacks, Salah Abdeslam now faces life imprisonment on the basis of this qualification for the shootings that targeted the BRI police officers during the Bataclan assault. The prosecution considered that there was an “interchangeability” between all the members of the commandos, one and the other could have been sent to any crime scene.
“But Salah Abdeslam was not on the scene, he did not hold the weapon, and he was not aware that this place was targeted! “, hammered with virulence Olivia Ronen. This sentence is “what we would have liked to ask against the authors of the Bataclan. But it is clear that they are not there. A few days before the verdict, Martin Vettes urged the court to show “courage”, not to give in “to the wrath of public opinion” and to “deviate” from “this social death sentence”, ” terrible and cruel”. Her colleague asked the magistrates “to apply the law” and to renounce this “white death lived in indifference”: “If you follow the prosecution, terrorism has won. The verdict will be delivered on June 29.