Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam, accomplice sentenced to 20 years in jail in Belgium

Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris Islamist attacks, seen in a handout photo released by French police on Nov 15, 2015.
Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris Islamist attacks, seen in a handout photo released by French police on Nov 15, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP, REUTERS) – A Belgian judge on Monday (April 23) sentenced Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in the 2015 Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacks on Paris, to 20 years in prison over a shootout with police in Brussels in 2016.

Abdeslam’s co-defendant, Sofien Ayari, also received a 20-year term for attempted terrorist murder.

While his lawyer argued Abdeslam, 28, should be acquitted because of a procedural error, prosecutors had charged him with attempted murder over the Brussels shootout in March 2016, days before his arrest, and called for a jail term of 20 years.

Neither Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris Islamist attacks, nor Ayari were in court to hear the ruling on Monday. 

Prosecutors had asked at the trial in February for Abdeslam and Ayari to be jailed for up to 20 years if found guilty on charges of terrorist-related attempted murder and possession of banned weapons.

Abdeslam is being held in jail in France pending a separate trial over the 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 people died.

The 28-year-old, a Belgian-born French national, was transported to the court from France for the first day of the trial amid tight security including a helicopter escort, while Tunisian national Ayari, 24, is in jail in Belgium.

On the first day of the trial, Abdeslam proclaimed that he would only put his "trust in Allah" and accused the court of being biased against Muslims.

He then refused to attend the rest of the proceedings.

Three police officers were wounded in the gun battle after police acting on a tip-off over the Paris attacks raided a flat in the Forest area of Brussels on March 15, 2016.

Abdeslam was arrested three days later in the largely immigrant Molenbeek area of the Belgian capital, near his family home.

'MOCKING' TRIAL

On March 22 suicide bombers from a cell linked to the Paris attacks killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more at Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital.

Investigators say Abedeslam's arrest spurred the Brussels bombers to bring forward the attacks, which had originally been planned for a later date, as they feared they could be captured.

 
 
 

Prosecutors have said that DNA links Abdeslam to the apartment in the Forest district of Brussels where the shooting took place, but not to the weapons themselves that were used.

After Abdeslam refused to return to court for the trial in February, his lawyer Sven Mary sought the case's dismissal on a technicality over how the judges were named to investigate the gun battle, and said media leaks had denied him a fair trial.

But lawyers for police wounded in the gun battle accused Abdeslam of "mocking" the trial.

One of the injured police officers was still suffering from after-effects including brain lesions, epileptic fits and vision and balance problems.

An organisation representing victims of the Brussels attacks and their families has asked for symbolic damages of one euro from the trial.

The Belgian trial is a prelude to a bigger one that Abdeslam will face in France at a later date over the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks, which were claimed by the ISIS terror group.

Abdeslam's brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.