Salah Abdeslam, accused of Paris and Brussels attacks, gets 20 years prison for police shootout

A Belgian court on Monday convicted Salah Abdeslam, the lone survivor of the group accused of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, on charges related to a shootout with police as he was captured in Belgium.

The conviction for wounding four police officers in a terrorist context was the first test for authorities as they seek justice for the families of the victims of the attacks, which killed 130 people in Paris and 32 in Brussels. Although Monday’s guilty verdict was not directly related to the terrorist plots, it offered a guide for what to expect ahead of higher-profile trials of accused terrorists scheduled for next year in France and Belgium.

The “terror character” of the actions of Abdeslam and his accomplices was clearly established, Judge Marie-France Keutgen said in her 80-page ruling. Neither Abdeslam, 28, nor co-defendant Sofien Ayari, 24, were in the Brussels courtroom as the verdict was read

Keutgen sentenced both men to 20-year prison sentences and fined each of them about $14,600.

In Abdeslam’s first court appearance in February, he spoke only briefly before falling silent. He refused to attend other proceedings in the trial, disappointing family members of the victims who had hoped his testimony could add to explanations about the motives of the attackers. Silence could also limit whether new understanding comes from the broader terrorism trials next year.

“My silence does not make me a criminal; it’s my defense,” he said then.

Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent, is believed to have driven attackers to the French national soccer stadium outside Paris on the night of Nov. 13, 2015, then eluded a police dragnet to escape to Belgium.

Terrorism investigators said Abdeslam remained mostly underground in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek where he grew up until authorities closed in on him on March 15, 2016. Police that day raided a safe house where Abdeslam and accomplices had been staying, and four were wounded in the shootout.

Abdeslam escaped. He was apprehended three days later. Then, on March 22, 2016, others in the terrorist cell bombed the Brussels subway and airport.

During the trial, Abdeslam’s Belgian lawyer, Sven Mary, said authorities had not proved that Abdeslam personally shot at police during the raid, arguing that his DNA was not found on the weapons that were used.

After the verdict was announced, Mary said he would check with Abdeslam before deciding whether to file an appeal.

Abdeslam has been held at a prison in France and was shuttled to the Belgian courtroom for the proceedings. 

Source link