Don't allow Paris attacker trial to become a theatre of terror.
By Yvonne Ridley
It would be fair to say there was a collective sigh of relief across Europe when terror suspect Salah Abdesalam was shot and arrested in a police raid in the Molenbeek area of Brussels after a four-month international manhunt.
A simple tweet from a senior Belgium official went out with the words: “We got him.”
What followed was a joint press conference with the French president, François Hollande, and the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, confirming the arrest of the top terror suspect in the Paris attacks of last year.
As far as I can ascertain, it was good old fashioned police work and a meticulous hard slog by anti terror police that finally led them to the world’s most wanted and two of his accomplices, also arrested.
No one appears to have been put on a rack or waterboarded for information they could not give and, by all accounts, the suspect Abdeslam is singing like a canary to his captors.
With a court trial in the offing, the people of Paris will finally get justice and maybe, just maybe, there’ll be some closure for the many who lost loved ones in the shooting spree which brought terror and chaos to the streets of the French capital and surrounding regions.
This is something perhaps US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron may want to consider before they sanction the next drone strike in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq or elsewhere to take out so-called militants, thereby doing away with the judicial process of a trial by jury.
Terror suspects must be put through open courts and not be subjected to extra-judicial killings which does away with the right to trial by jury. A trial is essential just as much for the survivors and families of victims of atrocities as it is for the general public; we all need closure. We also all need to know ‘why’.
And no doubt the intelligence police and security get from Abdesalam and his associates will be far more invaluable than anything gained from speculation or the hot air spouted by so-called terror experts on media programmes.
Now it is important to get the suspect into the dock as soon as possible so a trial can get underway. Abdesalam has already been formally charged with “participation in terrorist murder” and in the activities of a terrorist organisation, but he and his lawyers must not be allowed to turn his case into anything other than a fair trial.
I am still impressed with the way in which the judiciary in Norway refused to let the monster Anders Behring Breivik hijack their legal system turning the court into a place of theatre similar to the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial in America 21 years ago.
Breivik’s case went ahead with a minimum of fanfare or security; in the eyes of the Norwegian authorities he was no one special; a common criminal and would be treated as such. The process certainly deflated the self-importance of the far right egotist who clearly wanted a more high profile, high security trial with a heavy armed police presence and military helicopters whirring above the court house. It didn’t happen.
And while Norway's national broadcaster NRK had the contract to televise the trial, key parts including statements by the mass killer were not broadcast. Opening and closing remarks by the prosecution and defence lawyers at the Oslo District Court were shown.
The oxygen of terrorists and their supporters crave in the aftermath of an atrocity is publicity but the way in which the Norwegian authorities treated Breivik was calm and dignified and ensured less lurid headlines and general hysteria. It also gave the survivors and the grieving a chance to assimilate and digest what was happening without being caught up in an intrusive security or media circus.
Breivik, 33, admitted killing 77 people, including children, and wounding more than 240 others when he bombed central Oslo and then opened fire on Utoeya island in July 2011. Just over a year later he was jailed for 21 years.
So far Abdeslam has told Belgian investigators that he abandoned his original plans to be a suicide bomber at France’s main stadium on the night of November 13 after he drove other attackers to Paris for the attacks.
Over the next few weeks and months he might even give much needed information into the terror group Daesh, its recruitment methods and possibly details of more planned atrocities in Europe.
In all, 130 people were killed at several venues around Paris on that night. Sadly there are early indications Abdeslam will fight his extradition to France, a legal challenge that could delay a trial. His lawyer Sven Mary confirmed over the weekend that his client has been formally charged in connection with the Paris attacks and was “collaborating” with Belgian investigators but would challenge his extradition to France.
He said: “France has demanded his extradition. I can tell you that we will refuse extradition to France. We will first see whether the European arrest warrant is legal.” Legal experts predict his case will fail as under the European arrest warrant anyone who commits a serious offence in the EU can be sent back to face justice in the country where the crime took place.