Any week in which two major terrorist attacks dominate daily headlines is grim, but the small mercy is the retrospective nature of these stories. Not only does Saturday mark the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, , but yesterday saw the start of the trial of the extremists who planned and executed attacks on the Bataclan and Stade de France in Paris nearly six years ago.
The trial, five years in the making, is expected to span the next nine months, allotting time to hear the testimony of approximately 1,800 plaintiffs affected by the attacks, reported to be France’s most deadly event since the Second World War. More than 300 lawyers will be in attendance in the Parisian courtroom, which has been specially constructed to accommodate the huge number of attendees expected, as well as 14 of the defendants (a further six are to be tried in absentia).
Fear pervades this landmark trial. Approximately one thousand security personnel were stationed at the courtroom in Paris yesterday as concerns that retaliation from Daesh would resurface – a parallel to last October’s crisis when, during the trial of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded.
Old scars are reopening; the testimony of Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor among the alleged attackers who descended upon Paris on the 13 November 2015, rubbed salt into the wounds of plaintiffs. Abdeslam, 31, stated his profession was “fighter for Islamic State” and recited the Shahadah when asked to identify himself. For a population leaning increasingly to the right politically, this added fuel to the fire of anti-Islamic rhetoric in France, whose laws on religious expression have caused considerable friction over the past year.
This is a historic case which some hope will set a standard for how the west deals with terrorism crimes. While many are claiming that the trial will signify a triumph of “the law, just the law and nothing but the law”, the extent to which politics – and any temptation to make an example of the extremists – can be eliminated entirely from a lengthy trial taking place in the public eye remains to be seen. With the next presidential elections in France due to take place before the trial ends in April 2022, candidates are vying for popular stances on terrorism. In light of recent developments in Afghanistan with the re-establishment of the Taliban, the world is likely to be looking on and wondering what precedents the west will set for terrorist crimes.