The only surviving member of the group of Islamic State fanatics that terrorised Paris with a series of bombings and shootings has been found guilty of carrying out one of the deadliest attacks ever seen in peacetime France.
Salah Abdeslam is one of 20 IS terrorists convicted of killing 130 people and injuring hundreds more in the coordinated attacks across Paris on the night of 13 November 2015.
The 32-year-old has been in jail since his arrest in Belgium in 2016.
The rest helped plot the attacks – their crimes ranging from providing the attackers with weapons and cars to planning to take part in the massacre themselves.
All defendants but one were found guilty of all charges.
They detonated bombs outside the Stade de France stadium, which was hosting an international friendly between France and Germany; the Bataclan concert hall, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal were playing; and opened fire on diners at restaurants across the French capital.
Wednesday’s verdicts conclude a 10-month trial for which a special court was built to try 14 of the men in person and another six in-absentia, presumed either dead or missing whilst fighting for IS in Syria.
More on France
Abdeslam’s brother, Brahim, was also involved in the attacks, but blew himself up the night after shooting dead young Parisians drinking and eating in cafes.
Five judges heard evidence from more than 2,000 witnesses, including more than a million pages of evidence, 300 lawyers and testimony from European counter-terrorism personnel during the largest trial in modern French history.
Relatives of the dead, and witnesses to the attacks, have sat through months of harrowing evidence in hope of finally finding truth and justice.
Image: Salah Abdeslam is the only surviving member of the group that carried out the attacks. Pic: AP
“It has been a long 10 months, but I think we can be proud of what we achieved,” said Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan attack, in which 90 people died, and the president of Life for Paris, a victims association.
“Victims, myself included, we had very low expectations for the trial.
“The trial overcame anything we would have wished for, because terrorists spoke, terrorists in a way answered to our testimonies, that was so unexpected, that never happens in terrorist trials.”
Image: 130 people died and hundreds more were injured in the coordinated attacks
‘I changed my mind’, terrorist claimed
At the start of the trial in November 2021, Abdeslam defiantly gave his profession as an “Islamic State fighter”. But in recent weeks, as the trial has wound up, he asked for forgiveness and claimed he deliberately dumped his suicide vest to prevent more people dying.
“I go into the cafe, I order a drink, I look at the people around me and I say to myself ‘no, I’m not going to do it’,” he told the court. “I changed my mind out of humanity, not fear.”
Image: The first devices were detonated outside the Stade de France – with spectators moving on to the pitch. Pic: AP
On Monday, as the trial wrapped up, he tried to apologise to the victims, claiming he was not a murderer.
However, French police and prosecution lawyers said his suicide belt was found to be defective and this provides a more likely reason why he did not detonate it.
Image: Fourteen people were tried in person and another six in absentia. Pic AP
Abdeslam, a French national, raised in Belgium and with Moroccan roots, went on the run for four months but was eventually found hiding in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, close to his family home.
“I feel relieved that the trial is over,” Mr Denouveaux added, “because it means justice has done what it has to do and because it means this trial is behind me and I can move on with my life.”
Source : Sky News