Brussels (Brussels Morning) Heavy security and a strong police presence marked the beginning of the long-awaited trial in Paris on Wednesday, as alleged perpetrators and abetters of the 2015 terrorist attack were set to appear in court for the start of the proceedings expected to last for months.
The trial will involve twenty suspects, six of which will be tried in absentia. The highest-profile suspect is Salah Abdeslam, believed to be the only surviving member of the terrorist team supported by the so-called Islamic State, which carried out the actual attacks.
The remaining suspects are accused of assisting the attack by various means, from providing weapons or vehicles to playing an active role in organising the attacks themselves. Most suspects face a sentence of life in prison, the highest available penalty in France, if found guilty.
The attacks, which took place on 13 November 2015, consisted of coordinated strikes on six bars and restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and a sports stadium. Terrorist gunmen, armed with automatic rifles and suicide vests, killed around 130 people and wounded hundreds.
The trial will consist of at least 145 days of court hearings, in a specially-constructed, high-security courtroom inside the historic courthouse complex on Île de la Cité, an island in Paris’ city centre which also houses the Notre Dame cathedral.
Security around the island was tight on Wednesday, with the police cordoning off streets for both cars and pedestrians, and also securing the opposing banks of the river Seine.
With the number of scheduled hearings, the trial is expected to last for at least nine months, with the verdict expected no sooner than May next year. Involving more than 1,800 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers, the trial was described as an “unprecedented judicial marathon” by Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.
Around 300 witnesses will be called to testify, mostly the survivors and the victims’ families and loved ones. Former French President François Hollande is also scheduled to make an appearance before the court as a witness in November this year.