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'You can't turn the clock back': Paris attacks survivors react to guilty verdicts

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By Euronews  with AFP
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Arthur Dénouveaux, survivor of the Bataclan attack and president of life for Paris association, speaks to the media after the verdict in Paris Wednesday, June 29, 2022.
Arthur Dénouveaux, survivor of the Bataclan attack and president of life for Paris association, speaks to the media after the verdict in Paris Wednesday, June 29, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michel Euler

"A trial lasting ten months, it helps to rebuild. It's over, there's going to be a void." 

Sophie, a survivor of the terror attack on the Bataclan concert venue, responded with relief and tears in her eyes after Wednesday's verdicts over the attacks of 13 November, 2015 — the worst on French soil in the post-war period.

The special criminal court in Paris gave Salah Abdeslam a maximum sentence of mandatory life imprisonment. The 32-year-old was the only surviving member of the of the so-called Islamic State extremist group which killed 130 people and maimed hundreds of others.

The other defendants were given sentences ranging from two years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole for some and a mandatory life sentence for others.

"The sentences are quite heavy," said Sophie, moved by the verdicts. "They won't get out of prison immediately. We're going to enjoy it, I feel a lot of relief."

She took David Fritz, a Bataclan survivor, in her arms. "I feel I have grown up. It's important to see that justice has been done. It was necessary. It's a bit of a floating moment, like slamming a big iron door," he said.

Verdicts help to 'turn the page'

Before verdicts were read out, the large courtroom had never been so full — with survivors and relatives of the victims squeezed together on the wooden benches, the electric atmosphere a far cry from the striking silence of the trial's first day last September. 

"The way to deal with this horror was to rebuild as a group, and not individually. We needed to stick together and to hear what justice had to say to us after six and a half years," said Arthur Dénouveaux, President of the victims' association Life For Paris.

But, he added after the verdicts, this was just the first stage in a long healing process.

"I still have the impression of a huge mess, people are sent to prison, there were more than 130 deaths and justice comes to repair the unspeakable. By repairing, you don't go backwards. Before thinking about the aftermath, I'm going to digest the fact that we've finished the first loop. I hope to conjugate the word 'victim' in the past tense."

"It (the court) decided to be extremely severe. I am convinced that this will satisfy some of the victims," said  Philippe Duperron, President of another victims' association, 13onze15. "It depends on each individual, some needed this sentence (life imprisonment for Salah Abdeslam)."

One Bataclan survivor, Bruno Poncet, expressed unease though at the verdicts.

"Some sentences may seem a bit heavy. I wonder about our prisons, which are already overloaded. I am afraid that we are creating monsters," he said."It is a real relief to have finished with the trial... there is a fear of emptiness today but it is time to get out. I'm going back to work on Monday, I can't wait," he added.

But Gérard Chemla, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, described the sentences as "satisfactory".

"After the verdict, we have the feeling that we are turning a page," he said. "They (the judges) took a decision that was very well reasoned. The sentences handed down are not excessive... We are at a satisfactory moment for everyone, in any case for justice."

Lawyers for some of the guilty men expressed similar sentiments over the outcome of the long trial.

"The sentences are almost all below the prosecution's demands," said Xavier Nogueras, lawyer for Mohammed Amri, who was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. "On the legal arguments, we do not agree. We fought in particular on the qualification of terrorist criminal association, it is a failure. Nevertheless, we note that these are correct sentences that show humanity."

"I have the feeling that legally we have been heard. Since the beginning of this trial, we have wanted to emphasise that there was no complicity," said Ilyacine Maallaoui, lawyer for Sofien Ayari, who was given a 30-year jail term. "I have the feeling that the court has listened to us."

France's former President François Hollande — who was in office at the time of the attacks and gave evidence at the trial — welcomed the end of what he described as an "exceptional" and "exemplary" trial. The defendants, he said, had been "judged in accordance with the law".

Trial outcome 'won't bring back those who died'

The trial was an opportunity for survivors and those mourning loved ones to recount the deeply personal horrors inflicted on the night of the attacks, when the extremists went on their murderous rampage outside France's national stadium, at Paris cafés, and the Bataclan concert hall.

It was also a chance to listen to details of the countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion among strangers in the aftermath — and to address the accused directly.

Fourteen of the defendants were in court, including Salah Abdeslam. All but one of the six men convicted in absentia are presumed killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in prison in Turkey.

Most of the suspects were accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers back to Europe from Syria or providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons. Abdeslam was the only defendant tried on several counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organisation.

He began the trial proclaiming proud allegiance to IS, but later asked survivors and their relatives for to "forgive" him.

Georges Salines, who lost his daughter Lola in the Bataclan, felt Abdeslam's remorse was insincere. "I don't think it's possible to forgive him," he said, adding that his sentence was perhaps too harsh.

Bataclan survivor Bruno Poncet described the near seven-year time lag between the attacks and the trial verdicts as "not bad", adding that "what we've gained is experience".

"I just wrote a book called 'Joy as Vengeance' because I am totally not in a spirit of revenge. Whatever we do, it will never bring back those who died so let's let the justice do its work we just need to live up to the moment," he said.

Additional sources • AP