PARIS, 10 September (BelTA - China Daily) - The trial has begun in Paris of 20 men in connection with the November 2015 Islamic State terror attacks across the French capital that left 130 people dead.
Of the defendants, six are being tried in absentia; five are presumed dead, thought to have been killed in drone strikes, and the sixth is in prison in Turkey.
Just one, Salah Abdeslam, a 31-year-old French-Moroccan who is believed to be the only surviving member of the gang, faces a murder charge. Others face charges related to helping support the gang.
The trial, described by Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti as "an unprecedented judicial marathon", will last until May 2022, with 145 days of scheduled hearings involving around 330 lawyers and 300 victims.
The string of attacks was the worst that France has suffered since World War II, and focused on the Stade de France stadium, a number of cafes, and most significantly the Bataclan concert venue, where 90 concertgoers died.
Over subsequent days, gang members were tracked down and killed, either shot by police or by setting off suicide devices, and only Abdeslam evaded capture, until he was arrested in the Belgian capital Brussels four months later.
Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries will spend five weeks hearing victim testimony, starting on Sept 28. At the opening of procedures, he said: "The events that we are about to decide are inscribed in their historic intensity as among the international and national events of this century."
The trial will take place in a specially-built facility inside the Palais de Justice courthouse, with everyone going into the courtroom subject to strict security checks, and defendants appearing behind a reinforced glass screen. For victims who cannot attend, a secure audio link with delayed transmission has been set up.
One of the lawyers involved, Samia Maktouf, told Al-Jazeera that the trial could be traumatic but ultimately helpful for those affected.
"To be honest, from my own experience, victims cannot put all this behind them," she said. "It is very difficult, but it can help them to know that after six long years, there is a trial and this trial is important."
Thierry Maillet, one of the attack survivors, told journalists that it was symbolically important to be involved.
"I don't expect much from this trial, but it is important that my name be mentioned with the other victims so that I am recognized as such," he said.
Theresa Cede, an Austrian woman living in Paris who was out celebrating her 40th birthday when she was caught up in the attacks, told the BBC she thought it was essential the trial finally took place.
"The trial is an important step. It has to be gone through," she said.
"I am not sure it will bring closure or solace. But it is part of the process."