The only survivor of a team of Islamic State extremists was convicted on Wednesday of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the 2015 bombings and shootings across Paris that killed 130 people in the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history. .
The special court also found 19 other men involved in the assault guilty after a nine-month trial.
Chief suspect Salah Abdeslam has been convicted of murder and attempted murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise. The court found that his explosive jacket malfunctioned and rejected his argument that he had abandoned the jacket because he had decided not to continue with his attack on the night of November 13, 2015.
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots, was given France’s most severe sentence possible.
Of the accused besides Abdeslam, 18 several terrorism-related convictions were imposed, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge. They were given penalties ranging from suspended sentences to life imprisonment.
During the trial, Abdeslam preached his radicalism, cried, apologized to the victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his mistakes.
For victims’ families and survivors of the attacks, the trial was exhausting, yet crucial in their search for justice and closure.
For months, the packed main room and 12 overflow rooms in the 13th-century Justice Palace heard the disturbing stories of the victims, along with testimony from Abdeslam. The other accused are largely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of having a direct role in the deadly attacks in March 2016 in Brussels, which were also claimed by the Islamic State group.
The trial was an opportunity for survivors and those grieving loved ones to recount the deeply personal abominations inflicted that night and to listen to details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion among strangers. Some had hoped for justice, but most only wanted to tell the accused directly that they had left irreparable scars but not broken ones.
“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were shooting at the crowd, at a mass of people,” Dominique Kielemoes said at the start of the trial in September 2021. Her son bled to death in one of the cafes. Hearing the testimony of victims was “crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation,” Kielemoes said.
“It was not a mass – it was individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations,” she said.
France has been transformed in the aftermath of the attacks: Authorities have declared a state of emergency and armed officers are now constantly patrolling public spaces. The violence sparked soul-searching among the French and Europeans, as most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And they changed forever the lives of all who suffered or witnessed losses.
Presiding Judge Jean-Louis Peries said at the start of the trial that it belonged to “international and national events of this century.” France emerged from the state of emergency in 2017, after incorporating many of the most stringent measures into law.
Fourteen of the accused were in court, including Abdeslam, the only survivor of the 10-member attacking team that terrorized Paris that Friday night. All but one of the six absent men are believed to be killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in jail in Turkey.
Most of the suspects are accused of helping to create false identities, transport the attackers from Syria back to Europe or provide them with money, telephones, explosives or weapons.
Abdeslam was the only accused to be tried on various charges of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.
The sentence handed down to Abdeslam for life without parole has been handed down only four times in France – for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.
Prosecutors are demanding life imprisonment for nine other defendants. The remaining suspects were tried on charges of lesser terrorism and are sentenced ranging from five to 30 years.
In the closing arguments, prosecutors stressed that all 20 accused, who were blowing up around the French capital, armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosive-laden jackets to mount parallel attacks, are members of the Islamic State extremist group responsible for the massacres. .
“Not everyone is a jihadi, but everyone you judge has agreed to take part in a terrorist group, whether through conviction, cowardice or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court this month.
Some accused, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s policies in the Middle East and hundreds of civilian deaths in Western airstrikes in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
During his testimony, former President François Hollande denied allegations that his government was guilty.
The Islamic State, “this pseudo-state, has declared war on the weapons of war,” Hollande said. The Paris attackers did not terrorize, shoot, kill, maim and mutilate civilians because of religion, he said, adding that it was “fanaticism and barbarism”.
Abdelslam’s lawyer, Olivia Ronen, told a panel of judges during closing arguments on Monday that her client was the only one in the group of attackers who did not fire explosives that night to kill others. He could not be convicted of murder, she argued.
“If a life sentence with no hope of ever experiencing freedom is pronounced again, I’m afraid we’ve lost a sense of proportion,” Ronan said. She emphasized during the trial that she “did not provide legitimacy to the attacks” by defending her client in court.
Abdeslam apologized to the victims at his final court appearance on Monday, saying his remorse and sadness were sincere and sincere. Listening to victims’ stories of “so much suffering” changed him, he said.
“I made mistakes, it’s true, but I’m not a killer, I’m not a killer,” he said.