France sentences Abdeslam, the main defendant for the 2015 Paris attacks, to life in prison | International
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France sentenced this Wednesday to sentences of between two years in prison and life imprisonment to those accused of the Islamist attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris and Saint-Denis. Salah Abdeslam, the main defendant and sole survivor of the commandos that murdered 130 people and left hundreds injured, was sentenced, as requested by the Prosecutor’s Office, to irreducible life imprisonment, the maximum penalty provided for in the French Penal Code, and rarely applied.
The judges determined, after 10 months of proceedings and two and a half days of deliberations in a secret location military barracks, that Abdeslam was the co-author of terrorist assassinations against civilians and security forces. The court ruled out that, since he was not present at some of the crime scenes such as the Bataclan nightclub, he could not be held as responsible for the attacks as those who directly shot or set off his explosive belts. He considered that the set of targets should be considered as one, and that there was only one crime scene. Nor did he believe his version, according to which the terrorist gave up at the last minute for humanity to activate his explosive belt. According to the judges, it was a technical failure.
The Court of Justice room was packed for hours before Judge Jean-Louis Périès began reading the motivations and sentences. There was expectation after so many months in a trial that has placed France before the worst attack of a decade in which jihadism hit this country like no other in the West in these years. And perhaps it will allow some victims, and the country, to cross a new stage in the duel. It had been announced that the ruling would arrive at 5:30 p.m., but it was not until after 8:23 p.m. that the judge entered the room and pronounced the sentences. Some of the 14 defendants present were listening anxiously.
The sentences were the harshest possible – irreducible life sentences – for those most responsible: Abdeslam and the five Islamic State terrorists in rebellion (possibly killed in Iraq or Syria). Also for Mohammed Abrini, the terrorist who accompanied the cell to Paris but the night before the attack returned by taxi to Brussels, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, but reviewable after 22 years in prison. They were somewhat softer than what the Prosecutor’s Office requested for the rest: those involved in the Franco-Belgian cell that prepared the attacks; the members of the logistics network that facilitated the attack; the false Pakistani and Algerian refugees who did not come to participate; and the three men who helped Abdeslam return from Paris to Brussels, which was his place of residence and the base of the jihadist cell. These three appeared free and, although they received sentences of between four and eight years, having spent time in prison and receiving sentences with a period of supervised release, they may remain free.
Other accomplices received sentences of 30 years in prison, reviewable when they have served two thirds. The judges only downgraded the initial charges for one of the defendants, Farid Kharkhach: from association of terrorist criminals to association of criminals to commit fraud by supplying false passports to terrorists. Kharkhach was sentenced to two years in prison. Those convicted have 10 days to appeal.
The largest anti-terrorist trial
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“I did not expect more from the trial than the sentence because on a personal level there is no reparation and because Juan Alberto does not return today and the pain and emptiness that I have I have every day,” he told the press, leaving the room, the Spanish Cristina Garrido, mother of Juan Alberto González Garrido, who was 29 years old when he was assassinated at the Bataclan. “Life is for me, not for them!” She said in reference to the condemned Nancy Valle, mother of Luis Felipe Zschoche Valle, also murdered during the Eagles of Death Metal group concert at the Bataclan. “I have been carrying her for six years and I am going to carry her until she disappears.”
The ruling marks the end of the largest anti-terrorist trial in France in history. It was judged the biggest attack in a decade in which Islamist terrorism hit France. It lasted an entire school year, in a room built for the occasion inside the Palace of Justice in Paris and with hundreds of victims, lawyers, journalists, as well as five magistrates and three prosecutors, the accused on the bench (and six courts in rebellion), and even one of the most renowned contemporary French writers, Emmanuel Carrère, who has covered it for L’Obs and EL PAÍS and will turn it into a literary work in a book entitled V13. Everything has been filmed for history, just like the trial in the fall of 2020 for the January 2015 attacks against the satirical weekly charlie hebdo and the Jewish supermarket Hyper-Cacher, and the trial of Nazi Klaus Barbie in 1987.
For the victims, and for France, the trial has represented a therapeutic moment. But it has been much more than that. It has allowed a better understanding of the planning and execution of the attacks, and peek into the minds of the terrorists and their accomplices. Also speaking and listening: if there has been a collective protagonist in this process, it has been the survivors and relatives of those murdered in the Bataclan concert hall, on the terraces of the cafes in the east of Paris and in the vicinity of the St. -Denis. By testifying, some have advanced in the grieving process. They have provided, through a multitude of different perspectives, detailed information about those tragic hours and about the experience of terrorism and its devastating effects.
The other protagonist was the main defendant present, Abdeslam, 32, a Frenchman born and raised in Belgium, and the brother of one of the kamikazes. His argument to defend himself against him, and that of his lawyers, was that he did not shoot anyone and that in any case he was not a first sword of the Islamic State. His lawyers have described him as an impressionable young man who channeled his rebellion and indignation at the injustices of the world (specifically the war in Syria from 2011) towards radical Islamism. They have alleged that, since all the members of the commando who shot were dead, they wanted to turn his client into a symbol and give her an exemplary punishment.
With the end of the macro process, a chapter is closed, but not the book. In the fall, two other trials will deal with the Islamist attacks of the past decade. On September 15, the trial for the attack on July 14, 2016 in Nice will open in Paris, when a terrorist, behind the wheel of a truck, killed 86 people on the seafront. And on October 10, the trial for the attacks on March 22 of the same year at Brussels’ Zaventem airport and at the Maelbeek metro station, in which 32 people died, will open in Brussels. Several of those sentenced this Wednesday in Paris, including Abdeslam, will also sit on the bench in Brussels.
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