“We await with hope and a little concern the verdict”, confides Wednesday June 29 on franceinfo Me Olivia Ronen, the lawyer of Salah Abdeslam, ten months after the start of the trial of the attacks of November 13. The most severe sentence, incompressible life imprisonment, was requested against Salah Abdeslam, the last living member of the terrorist commandos. Faced with these requisitions, Salah Abdeslam’s lawyers, Martin Vettes then Olivia Ronen, insisted on the evolution of Salah Abdeslam, more than six and a half years after the attacks and after long months of hearing during which the accused principal of the lawsuit showed an ambivalent face.
franceinfo: The verdict of the trial of the attacks of November 13 must be rendered, after ten months of an extraordinary trial. What do you expect from the court?
Ms. Olivia Ronen: We wait with hope and a little worry because the requisitions have been long, the penalties requested are quite disproportionate. [La réclusion criminelle à perpétuité avec une période de sûreté incompressible, qui rend infime toute possibilité de libération, a été requise par l’accusation.] I know it’s not always easy to hear when we talk about excessive requisition, because we imagine that Salah Abeslam must take the worst punishment. But this irreducible perpetuity is based on only one of the qualifications which is the attempted homicide of a person holding public authority, concerning shootings at police officers at the Bataclan. But Salah Abdeslam was not at the Bataclan. It is on a reasoning that is far-fetched that the prosecution attached it to this by considering that the members of the commando were interchangeable.
Do you think Salah Abdeslam can be condemned for what he did not do but what the suicide bombers did?
This is exactly the reasoning of the prosecution. He says: we know you weren’t there. We know that you were not at the Bataclan, that you did not shoot at the police, that you did not hold a weapon, but you could have and we do not have the perpetrators. The real question we can ask ourselves is how much punishment the perpetrators could have been sentenced to if they had been caught alive.
However, it was Salah Adbeslam who dropped off the suicide bombers in front of the Stade de France and who put on an explosive vest.
Absolutely. He is the one who puts it on and it is he who subsequently gives up, as he explained during this trial. The defense of Salah Abdeslam is not to say that he did nothing, that he had nothing to do with all this. This is not the idea that we defended. What we meant was that he did things for which he must be condemned. He will be heavily condemned, we know it and we understand it and we assume it. But the Assize Court must know how to make allowances and tell itself that it is not because we are in the November 13 case that there has been the repercussion that we know and which still moves us a lot, that legally we have to do things that are very complicated, make legal arrangements that do not justify a sentence like this.
Salah Abdeslam presented himself, on the first day of this trial, as “an Islamic State fighter”. Didn’t he deliver his own indictment?
It would have been simple if he could define himself on the first day of the trial. We were lucky enough to have a ten-month trial. At first I was skeptical, I wondered what it was going to give but it was a great chance. We were able to study in detail the facts of the case and see a real evolution in the behavior of Salah Abdeslam.
Is he sincere?
I’m not going to take what I think, but refer to what was said on the stand by two recognized psychiatric experts, who have appraised a whole bunch of serious criminals in the last ten years. They said that he was not a psychopath or a dangerous madman, but that he was someone who at one point had only one posture to adopt, that of the soldier of the Islamic State. Potentially, this armor that he has been able to put on and build up for six years is cracking. A psychiatrist told us that. This armor manages to open, potentially at the risk of a collapse because it is very hard psychically to live. I am not trying to attract understanding, I just want people to imagine that there is a risk of collapse that has been pointed out by these experts.
When Salah Abdeslam apologized, were those his words?
It’s a principle as a lawyer: we don’t put our words in the mouths of those we assist. We are here to advise and say what would be best. It is true that we have always been keen to ensure that he expresses himself as he wishes within his trial. That’s how initially he presents himself as “Islamic State soldier”, because that’s what he wanted to say, and on April 15, in tears, he asks the victims for forgiveness, he offers his condolences, he offers his apologies. There is a lot of sincerity. I don’t force people to do things. If they want to do them, they do them.
Do you think this trial will move things forward?
This hearing made it possible to analyze many things. We have understood a lot of reasons that make us switch. It wasn’t always easy to tackle this trial, because we’re the same age, we took the full brunt of these attacks, we had statements from victims for a month to a month and a half which were very difficult, because we were taken by this suffering that was exposed to us. But the purpose of the trial is also to understand in order to judge as well as possible and manage to delimit the responsibilities of each, to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore. I hope that the magistrates will be able to understand what happened and will be able to apply the law as well as possible in order to have the fairest possible decision.
Will Salah Abdeslam accept whatever decision it is?
He is a litigant like the others. He prepared for it. Like any litigant, he knows that there is a way of appeal which is offered if the decision does not suit him.