PARIS — The lone survivor of a team of Islamic State extremists who terrorized Paris in 2015 was found guilty on Wednesday of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history.
The Special Anti-Terrorism Court also convicted 19 other men involved in the assault on the Bataclan concert hall, cafes and the national stadium, which left 130 dead and hundreds injured, some maimed for life. It also led to an intensification of French military action against extremists abroad and a lasting change in France’s security posture at home.
Survivors and victims’ families walked out of the crowded courtroom dazed or exhausted after a harrowing nine-month trial that was crucial in their quest for justice and closure.
The main suspect Salah Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise. The court found that his explosives vest malfunctioned, rejecting his argument that he abandoned the vest because he 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 killed by police that night.
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian, was given the harshest possible sentence in France. The sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole has been imposed only four times in the country – for crimes related to the rape and murder of minors. Neither he nor his lawyer spoke publicly after the verdict.
Of the other defendants, 18 received various terrorism-related convictions and one was convicted of a lesser fraud charge. Some were given life sentences; others walked free after being sentenced to prison.
They have 10 days to appeal. The convictions were widely expected, and those present expressed little surprise; above all, a little relief.
“I hope to be able to put the word ‘victim’ in the past tense,” said Bataclan survivor Arthur Denouveaux.
“When things like this happen, you have no redress. That’s why you have justice,” he said, although “justice can’t do everything.”
During the trial, Abdeslam first proclaimed his radicalism but then seemed to evolve, crying, apologizing to the victims and begging the judges to forgive his “mistakes”.
For months, the crowded main hall and 12 additional rooms of the 13th-century courthouse have heard harrowing accounts of the victims, as well as the testimony of Abdeslam. The other defendants were 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.
The trial was an opportunity for survivors and grieving loved ones to recount the deeply personal horrors inflicted that night and to hear the details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion between strangers. They wanted to tell the defendants directly that they had been badly scarred, but not broken.
“I feel like I’ve grown up” thanks to the trial, said David Fritz Geoppinger, held hostage at the Bataclan. “It is important as a victim to hear justice speak.”
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.
The president of the court, Jean-Louis Peries, declared at the opening of the trial that it is part of “the international and national events of this century. “France emerged from a state of emergency in 2017, having incorporated many of the toughest measures into law.
Fourteen of the defendants were in court, including Abdeslam. All but one of the six men convicted in absentia are presumed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in prison in Turkey.
Most of the suspects were charged with helping create false identities, bringing the attackers back to Europe from Syria, or supplying them with money, phones, explosives or weapons. Abdeslam was the only defendant tried on multiple counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.
“Not everyone is a jihadist, but everyone you judge has agreed to join a terrorist group, whether out of conviction, cowardice or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court in his comments. pleadings this month.
Some defendants said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s Middle East policy and hundreds of civilians killed in Western airstrikes in areas controlled by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
During his testimony, former President Francois Hollande dismissed claims that his government was at fault. The Paris attackers did not shoot, kill, maim and traumatize civilians because of religion, he said, but “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.
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 – for hours before Hollande ordered the storming.
During closing arguments on Monday, Abdeslam’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 assailants who did not set off. explosives to kill other people that night.
She stressed throughout the trial that she “does not legitimize the attacks” by defending her client in court.
Abdeslam apologized to the victims during his final court appearance on Monday, saying listening to the victims’ accounts of “so much suffering” had changed him, he said.
Georges Salines, who lost his daughter Lola at the Bataclan, felt that Abdeslam’s remorse was not sincere. “I don’t think it’s possible to forgive him,” he said.
But for Salines, life without parole is going too far.
“I don’t like the idea of deciding in advance that there is no hope,” he said. “I think it’s important to have hope for any man.”
Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press writers Alex Turnbull, Oleg Cetinic and Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed to this report.