PARIS (AP) — The first trial related to the 2015 deadly Islamic State attacks on Paris was going ahead as planned Wednesday after one of the suspects was successful transferred to a Paris court amid a national protest by prison guards.
Jawad Bendaoud was scheduled to appear in court later Wednesday for the much-awaited trial. He’s accused of helping two of the attackers — including the suspected ringleader — hide from police when they were the most wanted men in France.
There were fears Bendaoud could not attend the trial after guards protesting over prison working conditions blocked the entrance of the Fresnes prison, south of Paris, earlier Wednesday. But a spokesman for the penitentiary administration said he was able to leave after police forces cleared the main access to the jail.
The Nov. 13, 2015, attacks on Paris cafes, the national stadium and the Bataclan concert hall left 130 people dead in the country’s deadliest extremist violence since World War II. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Bendaoud, an outspoken 31-year-old repeat offender, provided lodging to the two attackers, but has claimed he didn’t know they were two of the Paris attackers or even wanted extremists. He faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
Bendaoud is to be joined at the trial by two other suspects: Mohamed Soumah, accused of acting as an intermediary with Bendaoud to find lodging for the two fugitives, and Youssef Ait-Boulahcen, accused of being aware of their whereabouts and not informing the authorities.
Both have denied the accusations. Soumah faces up to six years in prison and Ait-Boulahcen up to five years in prison if found guilty.
While the trial doesn’t directly deal with the attacks themselves, it is important for survivors and families of victims who are seeking justice.
Of the nine men who directly carried out the Paris attacks, seven died at the scene. The two surviving killers fled and hid in the apartment Bendaoud rented to them in the town of Saint-Denis north of Paris, and then died during a violent several-hour-long police assault on Nov. 18, 2015.
Bendaoud won immediate, though involuntary, fame all over France when he gave a surprising TV interview during the police operation on the apartment. He approached the security perimeter set up around the besieged building and spoke to journalists to clumsily proclaim his innocence.
“I wasn’t aware they were terrorists. I was asked to do service, I did service, sir,” he told a reporter from BFMTV channel.
“I was told to put up two people for three days, I helped out normally,” he explained, before being interrupted by a police officer who came to arrest him in front of the live camera.
By PHILIPPE SOTTO
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