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Paris terror attacks trial: Salah Abdeslam given life in prison without parole

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
A court-sketch of defendant Salah Abdeslam on the first day of trial, 8 September 2021
A court-sketch of defendant Salah Abdeslam on the first day of trial, 8 September 2021   -   Copyright  BENOIT PEYRUCQ / AFP

Salah Abdeslam, the only survivor of the so-called Islamic State extremist team that organised and conducted the 2015 attack on the Bataclan theatre in Paris, has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In addition to Abdeslam, 19 other men accused of playing critical roles in the country's worst peacetime attacks were found guilty "of all charges" on Wednesday.

Only 14 of them have appeared in court, with the other six being tried in absentia. 

Mohamed Abrini was given life in prison with a possibility of parole after 22 years behind bars, with the court stating it established "his allegiance" to the so-called Islamic State. 

During the trial, Abrini explained how he was supposed to take part in the attack but ended up backing out.

Mohamed Bakkali, Osama Krayem, Sofien Ayari and Ahmed Dahmani were all sentenced to 30 years in prison, with a minimum of two-thirds served.

Bakkali, who was said to have played a "fundamental role" in the attacks, purchased rifles and hired safe houses and getaway cars, the court said. 

He is already serving a 25-year prison term in Belgium for a failed attack on a Thalys train bound to Paris.

Krayem, a Swedish citizen, had spent some time in Syria fighting for the so-called Islamic State. His DNA was found in apartments used by the Paris attackers, and he is believed to have participated in the 2016 Brussels airport attack. 

Ayari, a Tunisian national who also travelled to Syria to join IS, was arrested together with Abdeslam in Brussels in March 2016. Together with Krayem, the two are alleged to have been plotting an attack against Amsterdam's Schipol airport. 

Dahmani, who is serving a different sentence in Turkey, provided logistical help to Abdeslam, the court stated.

The rest were given between two and 22 years in prison for a slew of charges ranging from participating in the planning and helping to acquire weapons or make suicide vests to providing logistical support before and after the attacks.

The gun and bomb attacks on 13 November 2015 saw 130 people killed across the French capital, including the Bataclan music venue, restaurants, bars and the national stadium.

Life without parole sentence extremely rare

The life sentence without parole is the heaviest under French penal law, and extremely rare, as most of those given life in prison have the right to an appeal after 18 to 22 years.

Being found guilty of terrorism resulting in death can raise the safety period to 30 years or no parole, however.

In closing arguments earlier this month, French prosecutors demanded the harshest judgement for Abdeslam.

They charged him with multiple counts of murder, complicity to murder, belonging to a terrorist organisation and taking part in a conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organisation.

For victims' families and survivors of the attacks, the trial of Abdeslam and suspected accomplices has been excruciating yet crucial in their quest for justice and closure. 

A native of Brussels, Abdeslam apologised to the victims on Monday, saying his remorse for those killed and wounded was heartfelt and sincere.

The prosecutors stated that his apology was a calculated attempt at getting leniency, considering how at the start of the trial Abdeslam provocatively stated his profession as "IS fighter" at the beginning of the trial in September.

Other contradictions, prosecutors noted, involved Abdeslam first expressing regret that the explosives failed to detonate, but later claiming he had changed his mind in the bar and deliberately disabled explosives strapped on his body because he did not want to kill people “singing and dancing.”

“Not everyone is a jihadi, but all of those you are judging accepted to take part in a terrorist group, either by conviction, cowardliness or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court earlier this month.

The court on Wednesday has found that his vest was faulty, rejecting his claim that he consciously gave up on the attack.