5:45 a.m., January 17, 2022
Last weekend, the Belgian lawyer Stanislas Eskenazi and his two compatriots who, like him, are representing the accused in the trial of November 13, visited Molenbeek with several French defense lawyers. They wanted to “better understand” what the debates were going to focus on when the hearing resumed. Since this week, the court has been examining the journey of the 14 accused until August 2015. However, seven of them grew up or lived in this part of Brussels.
“In the neighborhood, everyone knows each other by sight,” says Stanislas Eskenazi, the lawyer for Mohamed Abrini, who was part of the “convoy of death” on the night of November 12 to 13, 2015 before returning to Belgium. . Several men seated in the box also frequented the café Les Béguines, run by Brahim Abdeslam. It will be discussed Thursday with the start of the interrogation of his younger brother, Salah Abdeslam, the only member of the commando still alive.
There, traffic has always been commonplace, for a pair of jeans or a pair of trainers.
“The guys were playing bingo and six months later we find them planning an attack.” Me Eskenazi still seems surprised by these dazzling conversions to radical Islamism. When he was called into police custody on April 8, 2016, he discovered with amazement the identity of his client: Mohamed Abrini, nicknamed “the man with the hat” since a CCTV camera seized him like this. Zaventem airport, the day of the attacks in Belgium. He was pushing a trolley loaded with a bomb which he had given up on detonating. But the lawyer also recognizes a kid from the neighborhood.
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“Molen”, where his mother grew up and where he, as a teenager, played cards, shopped and hung out at the café with his gang of friends. There, traffic has always been commonplace, for a pair of jeans or a pair of trainers. Moreover, to a judge who set as a condition of release for one of his clients that he not be in contact with people involved in concealment, Me Eskenazi replied that it was impossible in Molenbeek. The magistrate has compromised.
Stanislas Eskenazi always fights to remember that defending is not endorsing
“You’re really screwed,” he told Mohamed Abrini that day, advising him to hire a tenor. A mark of humility on the part of the man who found a vocation late in life, after a career in computer programming in Morocco and then odd jobs in catering and security in Belgium. “I want you,” replied the respondent.
If he says he “doesn’t give a damn” about amalgams, Stanislas Eskenazi always fights to remember that defending is not endorsing. “One of our mistakes is to oppose these young people with examples of success, he continues. our time comparing them to Zidane. It’s biased.”
The lawyer has a horror of cases. As a child, he did the four hundred blows and his parents, both journalists, never managed to “hold” him. At the hearing, he stands out with his familiar verb and his good words. The trio of Belgian advisers, who live together for the duration of the trial near Bastille, amuse and intrigue the French criminal lawyers. Me Eskenazi, he tries to make the voice of “Molen” heard. “I grew up in these neighborhoods where the snack bar owners had fought in Chechnya, he says. They had fought against the Russian invader and it didn’t bother anyone. Like it didn’t bother anyone when they all left in Syria to fight Assad.”
With two or three keys, it’s easy to type in their brains
They were legion in the early 2010s. When Mohamed Abrini, with a heavy criminal record, was released from prison in 2014, he found his neighborhood deserted. His little brother Soulaimane died in Syria. Those close to him situate his plunge into radicalism during this period. A term that the accused brushed aside this week at the hearing: “For you, it’s radical. For me, it’s normal.” For six years, Me Eskenazi has sought to understand the mechanics at work. In addition to the social and economic difficulties of the families from which they come, he evokes the accused who, originating from the Rif, in Morocco, do not speak Arabic but Berber.
“With two or three keys, it’s easy to type in their brains”, observes the lawyer, who understands this language. From his research and reading, he concludes that certain things left unsaid in Islam could have opened the door to radicalism: “In a religion, there is good and less good. You have to be able to accept it. But religion Muslim woman did not want to do this work.” From then on, radical imams rushed into the breach, assuring their followers that what had not been said had been deliberately hidden. “They offered them a binary world, black, white, continues the lawyer. It reassured them to have the answer to everything.”
Me Eskenazi’s course? The remarks made by President Périès before the special assize court: those who killed are not in the box. “If these defendants are alive, that means that there is still a small area of gray in their brains. And therefore a hope.” Constantly, he calls to “return to the facts”: “What is there against them in the file?” However, he fears that dialogue will be difficult, in “this world without nuance where one can no longer discuss without being accused of being anti”. And to add: “Islam does not have a monopoly on black and white.”