French president lays wreaths and speaks to families and survivors, while only surviving suspect remains silent in custody.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has led a series of solemn and emotional commemorations to mark two years since Paris was hit by a series of terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured.
Macron laid a wreath and stood grim-faced as the names of those killed in the bombings and shootings were read out and a minute’s silence was held at each of the places the terrorists struck.
Accompanied by his predecessor, François Hollande, and the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, Macron met relatives of some of those who died. One grief-stricken woman, who had lost her son, told him: “I cry every day, I have no life any more. My life is finished. He was my only child.”
Flanked by his wife, Brigitte, Macron appeared close to tears as he spoke to families and survivors. The event was deliberately simple and low-key at the request of the victim’s families. The president made no public speech.
The homage began at the Stade de France where the first attack happened, and was repeated at four other sites including the Bataclan concert venue where 90 people died on the night of 13 November 2015. It ended in front of the town hall of the 11th arrondissement, where balloons were released.
Two members of Eagles of Death Metal, the US rock band who were on stage at the Bataclan during the attacks, played a brief concert nearby to mark the anniversary.
Two years on from the attacks, French investigators are still struggling to piece together the exact details of the terrorist operation. Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect, is refusing to talk to investigators about his role in the attacks. He played a key part in organising logistics for the terrorists but his exact role remains a mystery, police admit.
The 28-year-old has remained silent since he was arrested in Belgium in March 2016, four months after the attacks, frustrating investigators’ efforts to establish how they were organised and carried out.
Abdeslam, a former petty criminal turned jihadist, dumped his explosive suicide belt in a rubbish bin before fleeing the French capital after the attacks, but police say they do not know whether he changed his mind about blowing himself up – as he indicated to friends – or whether the device was defective.
It is known that he rented cars and apartments for the jihadists and helped several of them reach Europe. He has also been linked to the terrorists involved in the Brussels bombings in March last year, four days after he was arrested.
Abdeslam is being held under 24-hour surveillance in solitary confinement in Europe’s biggest prison, at Fleury-Mérogis, south of Paris. Fears that he is a suicide risk mean he is constantly monitored, but his conditions have been eased after doctors said his mental health was suffering.
On the evening of Friday 13 November 2015, three terrorist commando groups set off across Paris to hit at least six locations. Three terrorists blew themselves up outside the Stade de France; another group of three drove around the 10th and 11th arrondissements attacking cafes and restaurants; two suicide bombers detonated explosive belts after attacking concertgoers at the Bataclan and a third was shot dead by security forces who stormed the music venue.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man believed to have masterminded the coordinated attacks, died in a raid on a flat in the Paris suburb of St-Denis five days later along with two other people.
Abdeslam went on the run. He was driven to Brussels by two other men; their car was stopped by the police but allowed to continue. An intensive manhunt went on for four months until his arrest.
Families of the victims are anxious to see him stand trial, but his defence lawyers – Frank Berton representing him in France and Sven Mary in Belgium – dropped him as a client, saying they were convinced “he will not talk” and that his silence made it impossible for them to defend him.
Abdeslam has offered to appear at his trial in Belgium for the attempted murder of police officers injured in a shootout three days before he was captured in the district of Molenbeek, where he once ran a bar with his brother Brahim, one of the Paris suicide bombers.
His trial is scheduled for 18-22 December, but the Paris appeals court has yet to decide whether Abdeslam can be temporarily transferred to Brussels to be judged. Victims’ families fear he will use the transfer to avoid being sent back to France.
“Why would this guy, who isn’t talking to investigators in France, demand to be sent to trial in Belgium?” said Gérard Chemla, a lawyer representing some of the victims and their families. “We have to ask ourselves if this is an attempt to escape from the French authorities.”
A date for Abdeslam’s trial in France has yet to be set. Last month a French court threw out a case brought by Abdeslam for breach of privacy after a French MP visited him then described his prison conditions to journalists. Abdeslam had asked for a symbolic €1 in damages.