'ISIS landlord' in the dock in first Paris attacks trial

Jawad Bendaoud (above) is accused of lending his apartment to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a senior militant with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.
Jawad Bendaoud (above) is accused of lending his apartment to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a senior militant with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - The first trial stemming from the November 2015 Paris terror attacks opens Wednesday (Jan 24) when Jawad Bendaoud appears in court, charged with harbouring two of the militants 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 militant with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group suspected of coordinating the attacks that killed 130 people - and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.

The court will seek to determine whether Bendaoud actively conspired in helping the pair 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 the militants.

The press nicknamed Bendaoud the "Daesh landlord" after another name for ISIS, and his own lawyer Xavier Nogueras described him as "the one we laughed about, having cried so much".

The case will turn on what Bendaoud, a Saint-Denis native with a long criminal record, knew about the men.

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 militants 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 ISIS.

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.

Only one of the Paris gunmen survived. Salah Abdeslam 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 Feb 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 has taken investigators to Belgium, Morocco and Turkey.