Court finds 19 men guilty of terrorism-related charges in 2015 Paris attacks trial

PARIS (AP) — A French court has found 19 men guilty of terrorism-related charges for the Islamic State terror attacks on the Bataclan theater, Parisian cafes and France’s national stadium in 2015.

The deadliest attacks in France’s peacetime history killed 130 people.

Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries delivered the verdict on Wednesday in a courthouse surrounded by unprecedented security, concluding an exceptional nine-month trial.

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

During this extraordinary trial, the lone survivor of the extremist Islamic State team that attacked Paris in 2015 proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologized to the victims and implored the judges to forgive his “mistakes”.

For the families of the victims and the survivors of the attacks, the trial of Abdeslam and his alleged accomplices was harrowing but crucial in their quest for justice and closure. Abdeslam faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for murder and other charges, the heaviest possible sentence in the French justice system.

This courtroom sketch made on September 8, 2021 shows Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving member of the jihadist cell of the November 2015 attacks in Paris, during the first day of the trial at the historic Paris Courthouse. (Benoit Peyrucq/AFP)

For months, the packed main chamber and 12 additional rooms of the 13th-century courthouse heard the harrowing accounts of the victims, as well as the testimony of Abdeslam. The other defendants are widely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of having played a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, also claimed by the Islamic State group.

For survivors and grieving loved ones, the trial was an opportunity to tell deeply personal stories of the horrors inflicted that night and to hear details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion between strangers. . Some hoped for justice, but most simply wanted to tell the defendants directly that they had been scarred beyond repair, but not broken.

“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were shooting into the crowd, into the 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 both to their own healing and that of the nation”, Kielemoes said.

“It wasn’t a mass – it was individuals who had lives, who loved each other, had hopes and expectations,” she said.

France has changed following the attacks: the authorities have declared a state of emergency and armed officers are now constantly patrolling public spaces. The violence has raised questions among the French and Europeans, since most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And they forever transformed the lives of all who suffered loss or testified.

This court sketch taken on June 27, 2022 shows the accused Salah Abdeslam (right) standing next to the 13 other accused before the Paris Criminal Court during the trial of the November 2015 attacks. (Benoit PEYRUCQ / AFP)

At the start of the trial, Peries said he belonged to the “international and national events of this century”. France emerged from a state of emergency in 2017, having incorporated many of the harshest measures into law.

Fourteen of the defendants appeared in court, including Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the 10-member attack team that terrorized Paris on Friday night. All but one of the six missing men are presumed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in prison in Turkey.

Most of the suspects are accused of helping create false identities, bringing the attackers back to Europe from Syria or supplying them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.

Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, was the only defendant tried on multiple counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.

The sentence demanded for Abdeslam of life in prison without the possibility of suspension has been imposed only four times in France – for crimes related to the rape and murder of minors.

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

In their closing arguments, prosecutors pointed out that the 20 defendants, who fanned out in the French capital armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosive-filled vests to mount parallel attacks, are members of the extremist group Islamic State. responsible for the killings.

“Not everyone is a jihadist, but everyone you judge has agreed to join a terrorist group, either out of conviction, cowardice or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court this month.

This is an image taken from a Wednesday, April 13, 2016 video of Salah Abdeslam, left, the fugitive from the November 2015 attacks in Paris. (TVbrussels via AP)

Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s Middle East policy and hundreds of civilians killed in Western airstrikes in Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria and Syria. Iraq.

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

The Islamic State, “this pseudo-state, declared war with the weapons of war,” Hollande said. The Paris attackers did not terrorize, shoot, kill, maim and traumatize civilians because of religion, he said, adding that it was “fanaticism and barbarism”.

The night of the attack was a balmy Friday evening, with bars and restaurants in the city packed. In the Bataclan concert hall, the American group Eagles of Death Metal sold out. At the national stadium, a football match between France and Germany had just started, in the presence of President Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The sound of the first suicide bombing at 9:16 p.m. barely carried away the noise of the stadium crowd. The second came four minutes later. A squad of armed men opened fire on several bars and restaurants in another district of Paris. This bloodbath outside ended at 9:41 p.m.

Worse was to follow. At 9:47 p.m., three other armed men burst into the Bataclan, firing indiscriminately. Ninety people died within minutes. Hundreds of people were held hostage – some seriously injured – inside the concert hall for hours before Hollande, watching people covered in blood walk out of the Bataclan, ordered it stormed.

This archival video image taken by a CCTV camera at a petrol station in Ressons, north of Paris, on November 11, 2015 shows Salah Abdeslam (R), a suspect in the November 13 Paris attack, and Mohamed Abrini (C) buying goods. (AFP)

Abdeslam remained silent for years, refusing to speak to investigators. In April, his words began to trickle, in testimonies that sometimes contradicted earlier statements, including about his loyalty to Islamic State.

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

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

During closing arguments on Monday, Abdelslam’s lawyer, Olivia Ronen, told a panel of judges that her client was the only one in the group of assailants who did not set off explosives to kill others that night- the. He cannot be convicted of murder, she argued.

“If a life sentence with no hope of regaining freedom is handed down, I’m afraid we’ve lost a sense of proportion,” Ronan said. She stressed throughout the trial that she “does not legitimize the attacks” by defending her client in court.

In this photo taken on September 8, 2021, Olivia Ronen, Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer, walks into the courtroom on the first day of his trial. (Alain JOCARD/AFP)

Abdeslam apologized to the victims during his final court appearance on Monday, saying his remorse and grief were sincere and sincere. Listening to victims’ stories of “so much suffering” changed him, he said.

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

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