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Widely ridiculed, 'Daesh landlord' goes on trial over Paris attacks

Benoit Peyrucq, AFP | This courtroom sketch created at the palais de Justice court in Paris on January 24, 2018 shows Jawad Bendaoud in the dock.

Jawad Bendaoud, the man who housed two of the perpetrators of the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris, appeared in court on Wednesday on charges of harbouring terrorists.

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Bendaoud rented his apartment north of the French capital to Abdelhamid Abaaoud -- the senior Islamic State (IS) group militant suspected of coordinating the attacks that killed 130 people -- and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh. The French press dubbed him the "landlord of Daesh", referring to the IS group by another acronym.

The Paris Criminal Court will determine whether 31-year-old Bendaoud, himself a convicted killer, was unaware of their involvement when he hosted the November 13 attackers or if he was an accomplice. If convicted, he faces six years in prison.

The trial is expected to last for three weeks, and has sparked a feeding frenzy among the press and lit up social media networks. Not only is this the first trial in connection to the Paris attacks, but the defendant became, through his own stumbling, an object of widespread ridicule.

'A figure of ridicule': How Jawad Bendaoud became an internet sensation

On November 18, 2015, five days after the attacks, anti-terror police killed Abaaoud, Akrouh, and Abaaoud's cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen in a ferocious assault on Bendaoud's apartment in the Saint Denis suburb north of Paris.

Just as armed officers were surrounding the apartment, a wide-eyed Bendaoud approached journalists. “I found out that these people are holed up in my place. I didn’t know that they were terrorist,” he said, looking straight at the camera. “I was asked to put up two people for three days, and I obliged…I didn’t know them at all.”

The laughing stock of a country in mourning

Bendaoud became instantaneously infamous. The French public found ludicrous that idea that, in the midst of a nationwide manhunt for the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, Bendaoud wasn’t at least curious about the three strangers hiding out in his apartment:

His bizarre television appearance was broadcast on a loop on all France’s news channels and shared ad nauseam on social media. For a country that had been traumatised by the deaths of 130 people in the terrorist attacks three days earlier, Bendaoud’s absurd interview served as national catharsis. Newspapers described him as "the buffoon of a bruised republic" and "a release valve for a country in mourning."

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Bendaoud memes began to proliferate on the Internet. A spoof twitter account with the handle @LogeurDuDaesh (@DaeshLandlord) racked up more than 50,000 followers in three days. Facebook pages organized mock pajama parties at his house, while the Twitterverse kept coming up with new puns.

His own lawyer called him "the one we laughed about, having cried so much".

A hoodlum

Immediately after his statement to the media, Bendaoud, was taken into police custody, the cameras still rolling. Bendaoud, it turned out, was a known drug dealer in the northern Parisian suburb of Saint Denis, a right-hand man to the local slumlords who bore the nickname “666”. In 2008 he had been sentenced to eight years in prison for killing a young man over a cell phone theft. That was on top of his charges for forgery, gun violence, possession of narcotics and transporting weapons.

After his television appearance, Bendaoud was held for 144 hours, then indicted for criminal conspiracy to commit a violent action. By hosting the terrorists, one "could not doubt ... that he knowingly took part in aiding a terrorist organisation," said Paris prosecutor François Molins.

Last January, Bendaoud appeared in court on charges of cocaine trafficking. To clear himself of any link with the terrorists, he declared himself a "simple cocaine dealer". The judge took him at his word. At that hearing, an enraged Bendaoud entered the courtroom and started screaming insults at the policemen who surrounded him. He was removed from the chamber, tried in absentia, and sentenced to three years and eight months in prison, to begin immediately.

Bendaoud’s lawyers have asked that his trial on charges of fostering terrorists be closed to the press and public to preserve his dignity. The request was denied.

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