Hollande meets Paris attack victims after suspect captured

21st March 2016, Comments 0 comments

French President Francois Hollande held his first formal meeting with victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris on Monday, three days after Belgian police captured key suspect Salah Abdeslam.

"We felt we were heard, even if there was no concrete progress," said Emmanuel Domenach, who escaped a massacre at the Bataclan concert hall where 90 people were killed in one of several attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

Georges Salines, the head of one victims' group, 13 Novembre: Fraternite et Verite (November 13: Fraternity and Truth), ran through a list of "serious problems" experienced by victims and their families, ranging from the process of identifying the bodies to emotional and financial support.

Before the meeting he said he would quiz Hollande on his strategy to prevent future attacks.

"What are France's international goals, what is being done to eliminate IS?" asked Salines, whose daughter Lola was among those killed at the Bataclan concert hall.

He said Hollande had promised to meet victims' associations again before the summer, which begins in June, to take stock of the victims' situation.

Hollande's office on Saturday announced the long-delayed meeting with five victims' associations formed after the attacks that claimed 130 lives and injured hundreds.

It said the president and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have been in regular contact with victims and their families -- and Hollande has met with them previously at ceremonies -- but this is the first formal sit-down.

The Elysee said there were plans to create a permanent office to help and liaise with victims.

The meeting came on the same day as La Belle Equipe became the last of the restaurants struck in the attack to re-open, surprising residents. Twenty people were killed at the spot in eastern Paris.

- Abdeslam capture 'a relief' -

The dramatic capture of Abdeslam, one of the organisers of the attacks, in a Brussels raid on Friday "made the meeting all the more timely," said an aide to the president.

Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen, is the last surviving member of the 10-man jihadist team at the core of the Paris attacks. They are believed to have been supported by a much wider network, many of whom are under arrest or are still being sought by police.

Victims' groups said they were relieved he was captured alive to face justice.

"For some it is a relief. But it is by no means a cure-all," said Carole Damiani, a psychologist and head of Paris Aide aux Victimes (Paris Victims Assistance), another group which met the president.

Sven Mary, a lawyer for Abdeslam, launched a legal fight on Sunday to block his extradition to France.

Mary also said his client would lodge a legal complaint against a French prosecutor who divulged the details of the first interrogation with the suspect to journalists on Saturday.

"I don't understand why a prosecutor in Paris has to communicate at this stage on an investigation in Belgium," Mary told the newspaper Le Soir on Sunday.

Abdeslam "is worth gold. He is collaborating, he's communicating, he is not using his right to remain silent," Mary said.

Paris prosector Francois Molins on Saturday told reporters Abdeslam had played a "central role" in planning the attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, national stadium and several bars and restaurants.

Molins said Abdeslam had told interrogators he had wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France before changing his mind.

An explosives-filled vest was later found in southern Paris in an area where he had been, according to mobile phone signals.

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© 2016 AFP

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