Paris attacks suspect sentenced to 20 years over Brussels shoot-out
Prosecutors linked Salah Abdeslam’s DNA to the flat where the shooting took place, but not to the weapons used
A Belgian court on Monday found Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, guilty of terrorism-related attempted murder over a shoot-out with police in Brussels days before his capture in 2016, and sentenced him to 20 years in jail.
Of Abdeslam and co-defendant Sofiane Ayari, judges at the court in Brussels said “there can be no doubt about their commitment to radicalism” as they handed down the maximum jail term demanded by Belgian prosecutors at the trial in February.
Neither 28-year-old Abdeslam – who is being held in jail in France pending a separate trial over the 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 people died – nor Ayari, 24, were in court for the verdict.
Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary told reporters outside the court that he would consult with his client “and then we will see if he wants to lodge an appeal”.
Prosecutors have said that DNA links Abdeslam to the flat in the Forest district of Brussels where the shooting took place, but not to the weapons that were used.
Mary insisted it is unclear whether Abdeslam himself had fired shots at officers trying to break into the flat.
“If there is doubt, he should have been let go, it’s that simple,” he said.
Mary said Abdeslam would probably have to serve the full Belgian 20-year term on top of any sentence that arises from the French trial over the Paris attacks.
The conclusion of the case took place amid tight security set up by the armed forces and police.
“As all our demands have been met we can be satisfied,” said Maryse Alie, a lawyer for the police. “The judgment says that firing at policemen on duty is a very serious crime.”
Four 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, a Belgian-born French national, was arrested three days later in the largely immigrant Molenbeek area of the Belgian capital, near his family home.
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 railway station in the Belgian capital.
The judgment said Abdeslam had written a document addressed to his mother saying that “Allah guided me and chose me among his servants to open his path. It is for that reason that I had to fight the enemies of Allah with all my strength.”
He said that his brother Brahim, who blew himself up during the Paris attacks, “did not commit suicide – he is a hero of Islam”.
The judgment on Monday said that 34 shots in total were fired during the shoot-out.
Belgian police mounted tight security around the imposing Palace of Justice building in Brussels for the verdict.
Abdeslam has spent most of the last two years in jail in France.
He was moved 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 refused to attend the rest of the proceedings.
Investigators say Abdeslam’s arrest spurred the Brussels bombers to bring forward the 2016 attacks as they feared they could be captured.
After Abdeslam refused to return to court for the trial in February, 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.
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 over the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, which were claimed by Islamic State.
Additional reporting by Associated Press