In a khaki polo shirt, Abdeslam followed the reading of the verdict with arms crossed and a hard look. He remained impassive at the statement of the decision.

September 8, 2021. As soon as the criminal hearing opened before the special assize court in Paris, the tone is vindictive in the box. Beard and black T-shirt, Salah Abdeslam proclaims, peremptorily, to have “abandoned any profession to become a fighter of the Islamic State”.

“I had noted interim”, notes without disassembling the president of the court, Jean-Louis Périès.

April 15, 2022. The voice is soft and trembling, tears run down the face of the only surviving member of the commandos who left 130 dead in Paris and Saint-Denis.

For his “last chance” to speak on Monday, the 32-year-old Frenchman reaffirmed that he had given up triggering his explosive belt, “out of humanity”. To the victims, he asks to “hate him in moderation”.

Was this metamorphosis a defense strategy, as suspected on the benches of the civil parties, or a real evolution after weeks of debate?

“This trial allowed him to crack the pre-fabricated image that we had of him and that the six years of silence have consolidated”, according to his lawyers, Messrs. Olivia Ronen and Martin Vettes.

Remained silent during almost the entire investigation, Salah Abdeslam regained the use of speech from the first moments of the hearing.

– “Reverse” –

He arogates it to vituperate against his conditions of detention – “We are treated like dogs” – or justify the attacks. “We attacked France, targeted the population” but there was “nothing personal”, “these terrorists are my brothers”. The president cut his microphone several times.

Provocative, the accused is also insolent when he offers the president to “take a breather” or taxes him with being slightly “susceptible”.

But over the months, Salah Abdeslam continues to speak and even softens.

His answers remain succinct when he talks about his “simple life” before. “Imbued with Western values”, this former petty criminal from the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek frequented casinos and nightclubs. “I wasn’t dancing,” he hastens to add, smirking.

For his interrogations, the courtroom is always full.

In total isolation since his arrest in March 2016, held in a video-monitored cell 24 hours a day, Salah Abdeslam seems to benefit from this status of accused “number 1”. He taps on the microphone to check that it works, weighs each of his words.

And declares from his first interrogation, on February 9, that he “did not kill anyone”. Wearing an explosive belt on November 13, he said he had “backtracked”.

This “renunciation” will become the red thread of his hearings, even on March 30 when he opposes for the first – and only – time his right to silence to questions from the court.

– “Star” –

One of the Advocates General, Nicolas Le Bris, is angry with this accused who “takes himself for a star, teases and keeps silent, enjoying seeing the reactions he arouses”.

“We have confirmation with you, Mr. Abdeslam, that cowardice is indeed the trademark of terrorists,” fumes the magistrate.

Salah Abdeslam remains silent, finally decides to respond to a civil party lawyer to confirm that he has “given up” on blowing himself up.

These will be his only explanations.

What about purchases of explosives, car rentals, round trips to pick up future members of the commandos on their return from Syria? He responds with obstinate “no comments”.

Seeming unable to deny his jihadist commitment, he can the same day say that he “loves” the Islamic State group, whose actions he legitimizes, and repeat without blinking that he is “no danger to society”.

“Tenth man” of the commandos, Salah Abdeslam has never been to Syria. He thought about it at the end of 2014 but found himself in a “dead end”, he said in February: on the one hand, his “brothers” who are being “massacred”, on the other his “ties” in Belgium, his parents and the woman he was to marry.

In April, his version evolves: the “passing idea” of a departure for Syria turns into a fierce will. This is why he cries in front of his fiancée a few days before the attacks, he explains then.

His lawyer Olivia Ronen returned in her argument on Friday to this “two-faced Salah Abdeslam”, who oscillates “between the posture of the warrior and the little guy from Molenbeek”.

In nearly ten months of hearing, has the shell cracked? Was Salah Abdeslam sincere or was it just an exercise in style intended to smooth the image of a “monster devoid of humanity”?

When the prosecution requested life imprisonment incompressible against him, the heaviest sentence of the penal code which makes the possibility of release minimal, his defense pointed to a “social death penalty”, “terrible”.

“I want to be forgotten forever,” wished Salah Abdeslam in April. “I did not choose to be who I am today.”