A Paris court on Wednesday found the main defendant in the 2015 terror attacks guilty of terrorism and murder charges and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Salah Abdeslam is considered the sole survivor of an “Islamic State” (IS) extremist team that killed 130 people in the French capital on November 13, 2015.
For over nine months, he and 19 other suspects have been on trial for their involvement in the carnage. Eighteen men were found guilty of terror-related charges. One defendant was found guilty of fraud.
The IS terror group claimed responsibility for the 2015 killings, which took place at the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France football stadium and cafes and restaurants around Paris.
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old French citizen was charged with a string of offenses, including murder as part of a terrorist gang, kidnapping and terrorist conspiracy.
The nine other perpetrators were killed on the night, either by detonating suicide bombs or at the hands of police. Abdeslam had allegedly planned to blow himself up but ultimately did not detonate his suicide vest.
He was arrested in Belgium in 2016 after five months on the run. He has already been sentenced to 20 years in prison there over a shoot-out that ensued when authorities took him into custody.
The 19 other defendants on trial in the Paris case were mainly accused of helping with logistics or transport. Six of them were tried in absentia — one has been jailed on terror charges in Turkey, while the rest are believed to have died in Syria or Iraq.
The prosecution had demanded life in prison without parole for Abdeslam. They also requested life sentences for nine other defendants and sentences of five to 16 years for the remaining suspects.
During the lengthy court case, survivors and relatives of the victims delivered emotional testimony, along with Abdeslam himself.
In his final appearance on Monday, he apologized to the victims and said his remorse was sincere. “I have made mistakes, it’s true, but I am not a murderer, I am not a killer,” he said.
Prosecutors called his emotional pleas for clemency a cynical ploy to avoid a full-life term. In closing arguments, they stressed that all 20 defendants are members of the Islamic State extremist group that staged the massacres.
“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 this month.
Abdeslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen argued that her client could not be convicted for murder because he was the only one in the group of attackers who didn’t set off his explosives that night.
“If a life sentence without hope for ever experiencing freedom again is pronounced, I fear we have lost a sense of proportion,” Ronan said.
She also emphasized throughout the trial that she is “not providing legitimacy to the attacks” by defending her client in court.
The 2015 violence in Paris sent shockwaves across France and the rest of Europe. At the start of the trial in September last year, presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries said the attack belongs to “international and national events of this century.”