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French suspect denies knowing he was hiding Paris attackers

January 25, 2018

FILE - In this Nov.19, 2015 file photo, investigators inspect the building after the police raid on an apartment in Paris suburb Saint-Denis. Jawad Bendaoud is due to stand trial in a Paris court, Wednesday Jan.24, 2018, for providing lodging to two Islamic extremists just days after the commando group they belonged to went on a shooting spree and carried out suicide attacks on November 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Fie)

PARIS (AP) — A suspect on trial in a French court insisted Thursday he didn’t know he was harboring two Islamic extremists on the run who had perpetrated the 2015 Paris attacks just days before.

Jawad Bendaoud, an outspoken 31-year-old with a criminal record, was standing trial in a Paris court for providing lodging to two of the attackers and helping them hide from police when they were the most wanted criminals in France.

“There were signs, ma’am, but I misinterpreted them,” he told the presiding judge in his first statements to the court. “How could I be so stupid that I did not get it?” he added.

The Nov. 13, 2015, attacks on Paris cafes, the national stadium and the Bataclan concert hall left 130 people dead in the country’s deadliest extremist violence since World War II. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

The trial, which opened Wednesday, is the first time a French court heard a case related the Paris attacks.

Bendaoud insisted he has nothing to do with terrorists and jihadist ideology, because “I love life, women, my son and my mother too much.”

He said the idea that he was a jihadist was as implausible as “Snoop Dogg partying with (Osama) Bin Laden.”

Presiding judge Isabelle Prevost-Desprez said investigators found no extremist files or traces of jihadist sites in computers and phones used by Bendaoud, and nothing showing a possible religious “radicalization” of the defendant.

Prosecutor Nicolas Le Bris said Wednesday the prosecution did not consider the suspect a “terrorist.”

Bendaoud said he rented the apartment to the two men only to make money. He claimed that, at the time, he thought all the Islamic extremists had died in the attacks.

“At no time did I know then that two terrorists were on the run,” he said. “Nobody told me that I was harboring terrorists.”

He said he felt “the sky was falling down on my head” when he finally realized he had hidden two of the Paris attackers.

Of the nine men who directly carried out the Paris attacks, seven died at the scene. The two surviving killers fled and hid in the apartment Bendaoud rented to them in the town of Saint-Denis north of Paris, and then died during a violent several-hour-long police assault on Nov. 18, 2015.

Among the two who stayed at Bendaoud’s place was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the Paris commandos.

Bendaoud said he met the two men only once and spent “less than 10 minutes” with them, in the dark, the night before the police assault.

“When Abaaoud asked me which way to pray, I say, I do not pray,” Bendaoud told the court.

Two other suspects also are on trial: Mohamed Soumah, accused of acting as an intermediary with Bendaoud to find lodging for the two fugitives; and Youssef Ait-Boulahcen, accused of being aware of their whereabouts and not informing authorities. Both have denied the accusations.

About 500 victims of the attacks and their relatives have joined the legal action as civil parties in the case, or applied to be registered as plaintiffs.

Bendaoud faces up to six years in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to run until mid-February.

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