French court convicts 19 men in 2015 Paris attacks trial

Chief suspect Salah Abdeslam found guilty of murder, among other charges



AP
AP

By AP

Published: Wed 29 Jun 2022, 10:51 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 Jun 2022, 10:56 PM

A French court has found 19 men guilty of terrorism-related charges for the Daesh attacks on the Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and France’s national stadium in 2015.

The deadliest peacetime attacks in French history killed 130 people.

Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries was rendering the verdict Wednesday in a courthouse surrounded by unprecedented security, wrapping up an exceptional, nine-month trial.

The chief suspect, Salah Abdeslam, was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise, among other charges.

Over the course of an extraordinary nine-month trial, the lone survivor of the Daesh team that attacked Paris in 2015 wept and apologised to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his “mistakes.”

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

Abdeslam faces up to life in prison without parole on murder and other counts, the toughest sentence possible under France’s justice system.

The historic trial in Paris of 20 men suspected of critical roles in the massacres that killed 130 people on Nov. 13, 2015, addressed the violence in the Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and the national stadium.

For months, the packed main chamber and 12 overflow rooms in the 13th century Justice Palace heard the harrowing accounts by the victims, along with testimony from Abdeslam. The other defendants are largely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, which also was claimed by the Daesh State group.

For survivors and those mourning loved ones, the trial was an opportunity to recount deeply personal accounts of the horrors inflicted that night and to listen to details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion among strangers. Some hoped for justice, but most just wanted tell the accused directly that they have been left irreparably scarred, but not broken.

France was changed in the wake of the attacks: Authorities declared a state of emergency and armed officers now constantly patrol public spaces. The violence sparked soul-searching among the French and Europeans, since most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And they transformed forever the lives of all those who suffered losses or bore witness.

Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries said at the trial’s outset that it belongs to “international and national events of this century. ” France emerged from the state of emergency in 2017, after incorporating many of the harshest measures into law.

Fourteen of the defendants have been in court, including Abdeslam, the only survivor of the 10-member attacking team that terrorised Paris that Friday night. All but one of the six absent men are presumed to have been killed; the other is in prison.

Most of the suspects are accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers or providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.

Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots, was the only defendant tried on several counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organisation.

The sentence sought for Abdeslam of life in prison without parole has only been pronounced four times in France — for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.

Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for nine other defendants. The remaining suspects were tried on lesser terrorism charges and face sentences ranging from five to 30 years.

In closing arguments, prosecutors stressed that all 20 defendants, who had fanned out around the French capital, armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosives-packed vests to mount parallel attacks, are members of the Daesh group responsible for the massacres.

Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s policies and hundreds of civilian deaths in airstrikes in Daesh-controlled areas.

During his testimony, former President François Hollande dismissed claims that his government was at fault.

Abdeslam's testimony

Abdeslam was silent for years, refusing to speak to investigators. In April, his words started flowing, in testimony that at times contradicted earlier statements, including on his loyalty to the Islamic State.

He told the court that he was a last-minute addition to the group. He said he “renounced” his mission to detonate his explosives-packed vest in a bar in northern Paris that night. He hid out at first near Paris, and then fled with friends to Brussels, where he was arrested four months later.

Prosecutors emphasized contradictions in Abdeslam’s testimony — from pledging allegiance to Daesh at the start of the trial and expressing regret that his explosives strapped to his body failed to detonate, to claiming he had changed his mind in the bar and deliberately disabled his vest because he did not want to kill people “singing and dancing.”

During closing arguments Monday, Abdelslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen told a panel of judges that her client is the only one in the group of attackers who didn’t set off explosives to kill others that night. He can’t be convicted for murder, she argued.

Abdeslam apologised to the victims at his final court appearance Monday, saying his remorse and sorrow is heartfelt and sincere. Listening to victims’ accounts of “so much suffering” changed him, he said.

“I have made mistakes, it’s true, but I am not a murderer, I am not a killer,” he said.


More news from Europe