PARIS – Shouts of fear and panic. The thunder of gunfire. Dozens of corpses in pools of blood on the floor of the Bataclan concert hall. A Paris court on Friday released audio recordings and photos of the 2015 Paris terror attacks that had never been made public before, to expose the horrors of that night.
Some survivors of the attacks cried while others left the courtroom in shock.
It was a jarring end to the most crucial week in the months-long trial over the Islamic State attacks on the Bataclan, cafes in Paris and France's national stadium on Nov. 13, 2015, which killed 130 people. With thousands of plaintiffs, this trial is among the the biggest in modern French history.
Lawyers and victims’ families saw this week as crucial for shedding light on what happened, but it left many of them frustrated.
The last surviving member of the attack team, Salah Abdeslam, and suspected accomplices were questioned at last about the day of the attacks itself. They stayed largely silent, refusing to answer most questions, while the courtroom waited in breathless silence.
And when Abdeslam finally chose to speak briefly, instead of expressing remorse for his role in the attacks, he expressed regret that he didn't detonate his suicide belt that bloody night.
“I didn’t go all the way,” Salah Abdelslam told the court Wednesday. “I gave up trying to put on the (suicide) belt, not out of cowardice or fear. I didn’t want to, that’s all.”
Abdelslam dropped off three attackers in a car, who then blew themselves up on the forecourt of France’s national soccer stadium moments after a France-Germany match kicked off. Abdelslam said he subsequently drove to the north of Paris, and took the metro to the southern suburb of Montrouge, where he hid his explosives belt after he claimed didn’t have the nerve to detonate it.
Abdelslam said he lied to his co-attackers that the belt had not worked “because I was ashamed of not having gone all the way. I was afraid of the eyes of others.” Abdelslam’s testimony contradicted that of a police explosives expert who has told the court that the suicide belt was faulty.
Then on Friday, the court heard audio recordings and was shown photos from inside the Bataclan concert hall that have never been made public before.
The first recording marked the moment the attackers entered the theater. Music from the performers on stage — American band Eagles of Death Metal — can still be heard as the assailants unleashed a solid minute of constant gunfire from their automatic weapons. The crowd shouted and cried, and the music stops. And then the shooting starts again.
The second recording involved the subsequent hostage-taking, including the voice of one victim who said “they’re going to blow up everything — they have explosives.”
Then came the final assault: A volley of gunfire from police, followed by blasts from the attackers’ suicide belts. Then the evacuation, as police commanded: “Go! Go! We’re getting out, hands up and run!”
The 20 photos included images from around the Bataclan hall — the entry, the balcony, the stairwell. Blood is everywhere. One shows about 30 corpses in the dance pit below the stage.
Some survivors cried while watching the images. About 20 other people left the courtroom, visibly upset, as the audio played.
All the attackers were killed that night, but Abdeslam fled France and traveled to the Molenbeek district of Brussels where he grew up. He was arrested in March 2016. For years, he refused to speak to investigators, and he has stayed largely silent through the trial.
During Wednesday's key session, chief judge Jean-Louis Peries spent an hour asking Abdeslam questions. No answer, again and again.
Finally Abdeslam agreed to answer the questions of just one of the plaintiffs' many lawyers. He said three days before the attacks, he was planning to travel to Syria and was unaware of the attack plot until his brother Brahim filled him in. Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up on Nov. 13, 2015, after attacking a Paris cafe.
Abdelslam’s lawyers Olivia Ronen and Martin Vettes defended his reluctance to speak. In a statement to The Associated Press, they said Abdeslam “made use of his right to silence” but then decided to answer the questions of one lawyer for the civil parties who “sought to understand what he had to say.”
A total of 20 people are on trial on charges including attack planning, the supply of weapons and giving logistical support. Several are presumed to have been killed while fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. The end of the trial is scheduled for June.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.