PARIS — “I had a plan for selling cocaine — who would want to be my partner now?”: Jawad Bendaoud, accused of harboring jihadists after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, has been reveling in his chance to put on a show in court.
Media reports keep a running “best of” list of his outbursts and one-liners, not least of which his tale of bonding with a rat in prison.
But as a ruling looms in the first trial over the November massacres that left 130 people dead, families of the victims say his comic antics have only deepened their anguish.
“The past few days we’ve been watching a spectacle. I won’t deny it: I’ve smiled, I’ve laughed as well. And I’m a little bit ashamed of myself,” said Helena Christidis, one of the lawyers for the nearly 690 plaintiffs in the case.
She is far from alone: Bendaoud’s quips — interspersed with insults and threats — have made him a social media sensation.
The courtroom has been packed during the trial, requiring a giant screen to be set up in the hall outside for those who can’t get a seat.
“How dare you wear that robe?” he told one lawyer. “Careful what you’re saying… I’m going to come find you at your office,” he warned another.
“I haven’t left my cell in 14 months: In my place, other people would have cut their testicles off,” he told the judge by way of apologizing for an outburst.
And during nearly two weeks of questioning he has steadfastly denied knowing he had rented an apartment to senior Islamic State jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected coordinator of the attacks, and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.
“I found him suspicious but not a terrorist,” he said.
‘Not here to see a show’
Bendaoud, a 31-year-old drug dealer with a long criminal record, said he had previously rented the grubby flat to Eastern European gangsters without asking questions.
But prosecutors say Bendaoud and Mohamed Soumah had to have known they were offering shelter to jihadists on the run at the flat in Saint-Denis north of Paris just days after the suicide bombings at the Stade de France stadium and the shootings at the Bataclan concert hall and at nearby restaurants and cafes.
They claim in particular that Bendaoud spoke by telephone with Hasna Aitboulahcen for three minutes while she was hiding in bushes with Abaaoud and Akroun.
Aitboulahcen, a cousin of Abaaoud’s, was the brother of Youssef Aitboulahcen, the third defendant at the trial, who is accused of failing to alert the police about a terror plot.
Anti-terror police killed Abaaoud, Akrouh and Hasna Aitboulahcen in a ferocious assault on Bendaoud’s flat on November 18, five days after the attacks.
For relatives of the victims, Bendaoud’s apparent lack of curiosity about the men at a time when the country was on lockdown in the hunt for the fugitives, coupled with his behavior in the courtroom, only add insult to injury.
“I was outraged to hear laughter during these debates,” said Patrick, whose daughter Nathalie was killed at the Bataclan.
“I’m not laughing. I’m not here to see a show.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are to make their final arguments Monday, and a ruling is expected toward the end of this week.
Bendaoud and Soumah are facing six years in prison, while Aitboulahcen faces five years.
Their trial comes as Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect in the attacks, goes on trial in Belgium on Monday over a shootout in Brussels that led to his capture.
Prosecutors say the trial is expected to yield clues about the attack for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, police released four men late Friday who had been detained last week as part of the enquiry into the weapons used for deadly attacks, also in 2015, on the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket, a legal source said.