Paris — The sole survivor of a team of Islamic State extremists that terrorized Paris in 2015 was convicted on Wednesday of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole for the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history .
The special terrorism court also indicted 19 others involved in the attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, cafe and national stadium, which killed 130 and injured hundreds, some permanently crippled. This intensified French military action against extremists abroad and led to a permanent change in the security posture of France at home.
The survivors and the families of the victims left the packed courtroom, dazed or exhausted, after an excruciating nine-month trial that was crucial in their quest for justice and closure.
Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect, was found guilty of murder and attempt to murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise. The court found that his explosive vest was defective, rejecting his argument that he ate the vest because he had decided not to follow through with his part of the attack on the night of November 13, 2015.
The other nine attackers either blew themselves up or were gunned down by the police that night.
Abdeslam of Belgium, 32, was given the harshest punishment in France. Life imprisonment without parole has only been pronounced four times in the country – for offenses related to the rape and murder of minors. Neither he nor his lawyer spoke publicly after the verdict.
Of the defendants other than Abdeslam, 18 were given various terrorism-related sentences, and one was convicted of less fraud. Some were sentenced to life imprisonment; Others were freed after being sentenced for a period of time.
They have 10 days to appeal. The sentences were widely expected, and attendees expressed little surprise; Mainly, a little relief.
“I hope to be able to put the word ‘victim’ in the past,” said Arthur Denauvo, a survivor of the Bataclan massacre.
“When such things happen no repair is possible for you. So you have justice,” he said, even though “justice can’t do everything.”
During the trial, Abdeslam initially declared his bigotry, but was later seen crying, apologizing to the victims and pleading for the judges to forgive their “mistakes”.
For months, the 13th-century Justice Palace that houses the packed main hall and 12 overflowing rooms listened to Abdeslam’s testimony as well as tragic accounts by victims. Other defendants were accused of aiding in large-scale logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, also claimed by the Islamic State group.
The trial was an opportunity for survivors and bereaved loved ones to remember the deeply personal horrors that happened that night, and to hear the details of the countless acts of bravery, humanity, and compassion among strangers. Some hoped for justice, but most wanted the accused to simply state that they had suffered irreparable harm, but had not been broken.
“I feel like I’m grown” thanks to the trial, said David Fritz Geopinger, who was held hostage in the Bataclan. “It is important to listen to justice as a victim.”
France changed in the wake of the attacks: The authorities declared a state of emergency and armed officers now continuously patrol public places. The violence led to self-discovery among the French and Europeans, as most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And he forever changed the lives of all those who were harmed or who testified.
Presiding Judge Jean-Louis Perez said at the start of the trial that it pertained to “international and national events of this century”. France emerged from a state of emergency in 2017 after several drastic measures were enacted into law.
Fourteen defendants, including Abdeslam, were in court. All of the six men convicted in absentia are believed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq; The other is in a Turkish prison.
Most of the suspects were charged with facilitating false identities, transporting attackers from Syria to Europe, or providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons. Abdeslam was the only defendant to be tried on multiple counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.
Prosecutor Nicolas Brackone told the court in a final argument this month, “Not everyone is a jihadist, but everyone you admit to participating in a terrorist group is accepted either by conviction, cowardice or greed.” are.”
Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said French policies in the Middle East and Western air strikes in Islamic State-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq killed hundreds of civilians targeting innocent civilians.
During his testimony, former President François Hollande dismissed claims that his government was at fault. The Paris attackers shot, killed, crippled and traumatized civilians not because of religion, he said, but “radicalism and barbarism.”
The night of the attack was a humid Friday evening, with the city’s bars and restaurants packed. At the Bataclan concert venue, the American band Eagles of Death Metal was playing in a full house. At the national stadium, a football match between France and Germany had just begun, attended by then-President Hollande and then-Chancellor Angela Merkel.
At 9:16 p.m. the sound of the first suicide bombing barely overpowered the crowd in the stadium. The second came four minutes later. A group of gunmen opened fire on several bars and restaurants in another part of Paris.
It was worse to follow. At 9:47 p.m., three more gunmen stormed Bataclan, firing indiscriminately. Ninety people died within minutes. Hundreds of people were taken hostage – some seriously injured – in the hall for hours as Holland ordered a storm.
During Monday’s closing arguments, Abdelslam’s lawyer, Olivia Ronen, told a panel of judges that her client should not be convicted of murder because he was the only one in the group of attackers who did not produce explosives to kill others that night. .
“If sentenced to life imprisonment without the hope of experiencing freedom again, I fear we have lost our sense of proportion,” Ronen said. She insisted through the trial that she was “not giving legitimacy to the attacks” by defending her client in court.
Abdeslam apologized to the victims during his final court appearance on Monday, saying their remorse and grief were heartfelt and sincere. He said hearing accounts of victims “so pained” changed them.
“I’ve made mistakes, it’s true, but I’m not a murderer,” he said.
Surak reported from Nice, France. Alex Turnbull, Oleg Satinik and Masha McPherson contributed in Paris.