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The sole survivor of the jihadist cell that killed 130 people in Paris six years ago Wednesday claimed France "knew the risks" of attacking jihadist targets in Syria at the trial into France's worst postwar atrocity.
"We attacked France, targeted its population, civilians, but there was nothing personal," Salah Abdeslam said after being invited to address the court on the second week of the proceedings.
"Francois Hollande knew the risks he was taking in attacking the Islamic State in Syria," he said, referring to the decision of the French president at the time to authorise strikes against the group in Syria.
His calm statements contrasted sharply with outbursts he made after the trial opened last week, where 19 others are also accused in the biggest trial in modern French legal history.
This was the first time in the trial Abdeslam addressed the court with the judges' permission.
He insisted that he and his co-accused were not "terrorists, jihadists, extremists."
"In reality, it's a question of authentic Islam, and these terrorists, these extremists, are Muslims.
"They say often that I'm being provocative, but it's not true, I want to be sincere with these people here and not lie to them," Abdeslam added. "My goal is not to hurt anyone."
- 'Absolute disgrace' -
Many in the audience, including families of the dead and the roughly 350 people physically injured, cried or hugged one another as Abdeslam, who turned 32 on Wednesday, spoke.
"Instead of saying he's sorry, he just justifies what he did," a visibly angry Sophie Parra, who survived the storming of the Bataclan concert hall, said during a break in the hearings.
"I will testify so I can answer him, tell him what November 13th was for me, to see people die on me," she said.
"As a victim it's pretty strange; we lived this, we were targeted... and here he comes out and says 'it wasn't your fault but you were there, tough luck'," a man who identified himself as David told BFM television.
"It's an absolute disgrace, it's a lack of respect for what I and all the victims lived through," he said.
Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan who lived in Belgium, was one of 10 jihadists deployed to sow terror in Paris on the night of November 13, 2015, using suicide bombings and mass shootings.
The group struck first at the Stade de France stadium north of Paris, where three men blew themselves up.
Shortly afterwards, another team attacked bars and restaurants in the heart of the capital while three others attacked the Bataclan.
Nine of the assailants blew themselves up or were shot dead by police.
Abdeslam, who dumped his defective explosives vest in a public bin, was captured four months later in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, where he grew up.
The marathon trial will last until May 2022, with 145 days of scheduled hearings involving about 330 lawyers and 300 victims.
Questioning of Abdeslam and the others will begin in November, focusing on their backgrounds and personalities, before turning to their preparations and actions.