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Bataclan Trial: Fighting Terrorism With Democratic Weapons

The trial opens this week of those accused of masterminding the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks at Parisian cafés and restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall. Le Monde's front-page editorial puts the court hearings into historical context.

Bataclan Trial: Fighting Terrorism With Democratic Weapons

The trial of the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris opens on Sept. 8 at the Palais de Justice in Paris.

Le Monde

—Editorial—

PARIS — Beginning on Wednesday, the French will spend months reliving a night from hell: the attacks of November 13, 2015, which plunged Paris into the abyss of mass terrorism.

The grim ordeal will unfurl through the judicial process. Nine months of hearings are scheduled to take place before the Special Assize Court of Paris — a courtroom inside the Palais de Justice, the busiest appellate court in France located on the Parisian island of Ile de la Cité.

The trial will be filmed for historical preservation, and exceptional security measures will set the scene for a judicial event to match the barbarous night concerned. Twenty defendants, 13 of whom come from the jihadist cell responsible for the operation, will answer for attacks that killed 130 people and injured hundreds more during three brutal hours at the Stade de France stadium, the iconic Bataclan concert hall and at the patios of nearby bars and cafés.

Only one member of the commando, Salah Abdeslam, remains alive. He will be in the booth, facing 1,780 people registered as civil plaintiffs.

Outside the temporary courtroom set up for the trial of the November 2015 Paris attacks — Photo: Lafargue Raphael/Abaca/ZUMA

The sheer quantity of investigation and examination carried out over five years by police and judicial experts will be delivered at the trial. It is now up to the court to retrospectively scrutinize the most deadly attacks ever carried out by the Islamic State in Europe. This will transpire through victims' accounts and testimonies, interrogations conducted by judges and lawyers, the evidence provided, indictments and, finally, judgment.

This is the ultimate weapon that a democracy holds against the threat of terrorist violence: the law, the whole of the law, nothing but the law. It's the moment when a citizen's status transforms from target and victim to artisan of a rational and ethical procedure — the judicial process. Last year, a similar trial for terrorist attacks targeting the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket Hyper Cacher, provided another example, alongside other past trials of tragic events in recent decades.

As circumstances would have it, the trials of the November 13 attacks open in Paris the same week as the U.S. and world mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It would be risky to establish a direct link between these two events as the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, which continues to stain the 21st century, has numerous ramifications. When looking at the murderous and totalitarian obsession of jihadist ideology, one cannot help but notice the differences in the responses of the United States and Europe.

American powers responded to 9/11 with secret CIA prisons and the abduction of suspects all over the world. Many were subsequently transferred to the military penitentiary camp in Guantanamo, which had been specifically opened for this purpose as it was outside the jurisdiction of American law — and far from the eyes of the public. Twenty years later, like a wound that's impossible to heal, this prison is still open. This is also what the November 13 trial should stand for: showing that it is possible to answer terrorism with democracy.

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