PARIS: The first trial stemming from the November 2015 Paris terror attacks opens Wednesday when Jawad Bendaoud appears in court, charged with harbouring two of the jihadists in the aftermath of the carnage.
Bendaoud, 31, became a national laughing stock after a television interview in which he came across as clueless, insisting “I didn’t know they were terrorists”.
It provided a rare reason to laugh after the deadliest attacks in France since World War II, spawning endless parodies on the internet mocking his apparent naivety.
Bendaoud stands accused of lending his apartment to Abdelhamid Abaaoud – a senior Islamic State jihadist suspected of coordinating the attacks that killed 130 people – and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.
The trial comes ahead of that of the only survivor among the 10 men who carried out the killing spree, Salah Abdeslam, who is due to appear in court in Belgium early next month.
Bendaoud’s arrival was thrown into doubt Wednesday morning by an angry protest by guards at the Fresnes prison near Paris where he was being held, with some staff refusing to let him out.
Riot police had to be brought in to clear a way through the picket of around a hundred guards, part of a nationwide protest movement over pay and security that has caused havoc at French jails for a week.
In Paris, the court will seek to determine whether Bendaoud actively conspired in helping two of the jihadists to hide out or whether he got caught up in events unknowingly.
Anti-terror police killed Abaaoud, Akrouh, and Abaaoud’s cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen in a ferocious assault on the apartment on November 18, five days after the attacks.
Bendaoud gave his now infamous interview to BFM television just as armed officers were surrounding the apartment in the gritty Saint-Denis suburb north of Paris.
“Someone asked me for a favour, I helped them out,” he said, adding that all he knew was that they were from Belgium and wanted access to water and a place to pray.
“I was asked to give accommodation to two people for three days and I did the favour,” said the bespectacled Bendaoud, wearing a leather jacket with his hair gelled back.
“If I’d known, do you really think I would have hosted them?”
The clip became a viral sensation, with internet users mocking his apparent lack of curiosity about his guests, at a time when a huge manhunt had been launched for jihadists.
The press nicknamed Bendaoud the “Daesh landlord” after another name for IS, and his own lawyer Xavier Nogueras described him as “the one we laughed about, having cried so much”.
How much did he know?
The case will turn on what Bendaoud, a Saint-Denis native with a long criminal record, knew about his lodgers.
He was previously sentenced to eight years in jail for killing a man in a fight over a mobile phone and was released in 2013.
Bendaoud will go on trial alongside his friend Mohamed Soumah as well as Youssef Aitboulahcen, the brother of the woman killed in the raid on the apartment.
Ten heavily armed jihadists attacked the national stadium, bars and restaurants in Paris as well as the Bataclan concert venue on the night of November 13 in attacks claimed by IS.
Before they were killed in the raid on the apartment, Abaaoud and Akrouh were suspected of preparing a suicide attack on the French capital’s La Defense business district.
Abdeslam, the only surviving jihadist, was arrested in Belgium four months after the attacks and transferred to France, where he has refused to cooperate with investigators.
He is to go on trial in Belgium on February 5 over a shootout with police that left several officers wounded but led to his capture.
Around 15 people are in custody or being sought by police as part of the sprawling French probe into the Paris attacks which have taken investigators to Belgium, Morocco, and Turkey.