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Sole surviving suspect in 2015 Paris terror onslaught says he’s ‘not a murderer’

Salah Abdeslam apologizes to victims, says he was a last-minute add-on to the group of Islamic State attackers

This court sketch made on September 8, 2021 shows Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving member of the jihadist cell of the November 2015 Paris attacks, during the first day of the trial of the November 2015 Paris and Saint-Denis attacks taking place in a temporary courtroom set up at the Paris' Palais de Justice historic courthouse on September 8, 2021. (Benoit Peyrucq/AFP)
This court sketch made on September 8, 2021 shows Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving member of the jihadist cell of the November 2015 Paris attacks, during the first day of the trial of the November 2015 Paris and Saint-Denis attacks taking place in a temporary courtroom set up at the Paris' Palais de Justice historic courthouse on September 8, 2021. (Benoit Peyrucq/AFP)

PARIS (AP) — The only surviving suspected member of the Islamic State attack team that terrorized Paris in 2015 pleaded for leniency during his final appearance in court on Monday, acknowledging he had “made mistakes,” but declaring: “I’m not a murderer.”

Salah Abdeslam is a leading suspect in France’s worst peacetime attacks of November 13, 2015, that killed 130 people. He is on trial with 19 other men on suspicion of playing critical roles in the Islamic State’s massacres in a Paris music hall, cafes and the national stadium that Friday night.

In closing arguments earlier this month, French prosecutors demanded a life sentence without a possibility of parole for Abdeslam. They charged him with multiple counts of murder, complicity to murder, belonging to a terrorist organization and taking part in a conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.

A verdict in the historic trial is expected on Wednesday.

Abdeslam apologized to the victims on Monday, saying his remorse and sorrow for the 130 people killed and more than 400 wounded is heartfelt and sincere.

“Who can make an insincere apology for so much suffering?” Abdeslam said. He acknowledged he has made mistakes, but declared: “I am not a murderer, I am not a killer.

Abdeslam stayed silent about what happened on November 13, 2015. Since his trial opened in September, he had a few outbursts of extremist bravado, but refused to answer most questions.

This court sketch made on June 27, 2022, shows defendant Salah Abdeslam (R) standing next to the 13 other defendants in front of Paris’ criminal court during the trial of the November 2015 attacks that saw 130 people killed at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, bars, restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. (Benoit Peyrucq/AFP)

In April, his words started flowing and he gave a lengthy testimony over several days that at times contradicted earlier statements, including on his loyalty to the Islamic State.

As the only member of the Paris attackers who did not join the self-proclaimed IS caliphate in Syria, he told the court that he was a last-minute add-on to the group. He said he “renounced” his mission to detonate his explosives-packed vest in a bar in northern Paris the night of November 13 as his brother and other Islamic State extremists fanned out around the capital mounting parallel attacks.

This file video grab taken from a CCTV camera at a petrol station in Ressons, North of Paris, on November 11, 2015, shows Salah Abdeslam (R), a suspect in the Paris attack of November 13, and Mohammed Abrini (C) buying goods (OFF/AFP)

A police explosives expert has told the court that the suicide belt was faulty, but Abdeslam testified that he disabled it.

After leaving the café, Abdeslam described desperate attempts to reach friends to ask for help, and taking a taxi across Paris to the suburb of Montrouge. He hid out at first near Paris, and then fled with friends to Brussels, where he was arrested four months later.

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