A group of 30-somethings plays petanque, a national pastime for French people of all ages, in the Dauphine square of the Île de la Cité, the Parisian island that houses architectural treasures such as the Notre Dame cathedral or the Pont Neuf. And the old courthouse. A few meters from the carefree players, the fences still delimited the rear entrance of the ancient court building on Friday, for 10 months subjected to extreme police surveillance. They also still hung signs indicating access to lawyers, civilians and the press. But the doors were closed. Inside, the monumental special courtroom has begun to be dismantled in which the trial for the worst attack suffered in France was held until this week: the jihadist attacks on November 13, 2015 at the Stade de France, the concert hall Bataclan and several terraces in the French capital, which left 130 dead and hundreds injured. After 148 days of a process in which the horrors of that night that forever changed an entire country were relived, France seems determined to turn the page. It won’t be easy though.
“Now begins the day after. Everything happened”, proclaimed at the end of the trial David Fritz-Goeppinger, one of the survivors of the Bataclan and author of a blog about the trial.
Until just a few days ago, the same square, now flooded again with tourists unrelated to the trial, served as respite, and even catharsis, for victims and relatives of 13-N. There they sought to regain strength before returning to the harrowing process and sitting for hours in front of the 14 defendants (six more were tried in absentia and are believed to be dead) of having turned their lives upside down forever.
It was “a kind of microcosm, a community of people who met before the hearings to eat something together, or after the trial to have a drink and even have a laugh or talk about something else after the session,” explains Olivier Laplaud, another survivor of the Bataclan and vice-president of the association of victims of 13-N Life for Paris. They met again on Wednesday night, this time to celebrate the sentences issued by the court, especially the irreducible permanent prison against the only survivor of the jihadist commandos, Salah Abdeslam.
The terrorist’s lawyers, who can still appeal the sentence, called out against what they consider a “slow death penalty.” Abdeslam himself, in his last statement on Monday, tried to scratch clemency. “I am not a murderer. If they convict me, they will do an injustice,” he said. When, two days later, the president of the court, Jean-Louis Périès, read the sentence, which makes it very unlikely that Abdeslam will ever go free, the 32-year-old’s face remained impassive.
The irreducible permanent prison is the most serious sentence that contemplate the french justice. It prevents the possibility of requesting a reduction of the sentence until at least 30 years in prison have been served. Later, it is not easy either: three medical experts must analyze the dangerousness of the prisoner. Next, a commission of five judges of the court of cassation decides whether or not to shorten the sentence, for which the convicted person must show “serious guarantees of social rehabilitation.”
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If the conditions are so harsh, it is because this sentence was incorporated into the criminal code in 1994 with an eye toward very specific criminals: murderers of tortured or raped minors. Until Abdeslam, this sentence had only been pronounced against four men, all accused of terrible crimes against children. In 2011, it was extended to those accused of murder or attempted murder of persons “holders of public authority”, from police officers to magistrates. In 2016, after the 2015 attacks, it was extended again for cases of terrorism.
As the law is not retroactive, this last point could not be applied to Abdeslam. However, the magistrates decided to consider the attacks on the night of November 13 as “a single crime scene.” And since in the Bataclan the terrorists also attacked agents, although Abdeslam was not there, they considered that he was part of that terrorist attempt. The judges also rejected the statements of repentance of the jihadist, who during the trial assured that he did not detonate his explosive belt “for humanity” and accepted the version that he suffered a technical failure.
For Samia Maktouf, a lawyer for forty victims of 13-N, it is a “fair, balanced sentence that takes into account extremely serious facts,” she says by phone.
Nor do the victims doubt that the sentences are proportional to the pain inflicted. “I have been wearing life imprisonment for six years and I will continue to wear it until it ceases to exist,” Nancy Valle, mother of Luis Felipe Zschoche Valle, who was murdered at the Bataclan, recalled on Wednesday. Olivier Laplaud, who eluded death in that same concert hall by hiding for two and a half hours in a dressing room, declares himself “satisfied” with both the trial and the verdict. “It will not give us back our dead or our life before, nor will it heal the scars of the wounded or the sorrow of people who have lost a loved one. But the important thing is that justice has been done, ”he concludes by phone.
Despite those wounds that may never heal, most want to turn the page. But after years waiting for the trial and long months of process, it is not easy, acknowledges Laplaud.
“Many of us now feel a great emptiness. We’ve gotten used to running into each other in the audience, sitting in the same room every day, often in the same place, looking at the same screens… It’s going to take us a while to realize that it’s really over.”
For this reason, associations such as Life for Paris or 13onze15 have announced a transformation to dedicate themselves more to psychological support and offer new meeting spaces. “We don’t want to be victims all our lives, that’s why the association Life for Paris as an institution it will be dissolved, but it will not disappear. We will continue to be a discussion group, we will hold commemorations, but there will no longer be a president and vice president, we will continue to help each other in a simpler way”, explains Laplaud.
The process of 13-N is also not the last. Regardless of whether those convicted appeal, the next trial for terrorism in France is already in sight: in September, the trial for the attack in Nice on July 14, 2016, in which a terrorist threw a truck into a crowd, will begin. which was celebrating the French national holiday and killed 85 people before being shot down. Abdeslam and others of those convicted this week also have another pending trial, starting in October, in Brussels, for the attacks in the Belgian capital in March 2016 in which 35 people died.
Lawyer Maktouf also has a resentment of the 13-N process: one of the objectives of the trial, she remembers, was to know once and for all the truth about that terrible night. “There have been some answers, but they have come from the judicial investigation. From the accused, except for some elements that they have contributed, we have not obtained more than a part of the truth, ”she says. “The process is closed, I hope that a page is closed, but a part of the truth is still not with us today. He has remained in the dock of the accused”.
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