The only surviving attacker from the 2015 massacre at the Bataclan theatre and other sites in Paris has been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
That is the most severe sentence possible in France, and very rare.
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Presiding Judge Jean-Louis Peries read the verdict on Wednesday in a courthouse surrounded by unprecedented security, wrapping up an exceptional, nine-month trial.
The chief suspect and sole surviving attacker, 32-year-old Salah Abdeslam, was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in relation to a “terrorist” enterprise, among other charges.
Abdeslam had said during the trial that he had chosen at the last minute not to detonate his explosive vest. But, based on the investigations and hearings, the court ruled otherwise.
“The court considered that the explosive vest malfunctioned,” Peries said.
Abdeslam is “guilty of being a member of a terrorist network”, the judge also said.
During the trial, Abdeslam apologised to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his “mistakes”.
In addition to the Bataclan music hall, six bars and restaurants and the perimeter of the Stade de France sports stadium were targeted in hours-long attacks.
For months, the packed main chamber and 12 overflow rooms in the 13th-century Palace of Justice heard harrowing accounts by the victims, along with testimony from Abdeslam.
Nineteen other defendants in the case were largely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one was accused of a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, which also was claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) group. All 19 defendants were found guilty on all counts, with the exception of terrorism charges for one of the less prominent accused.
Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan attack, told Reuters news agency ahead of the verdict that the trial had surpassed victims’ expectations “because terrorists spoke, terrorists in a way answered to our testimonies; that was so unexpected, that never happens in terrorist trials”.
“I think we can be proud of what we achieved,” said Denouveaux, the president of Life for Paris, a victims’ association.
Judge Peries said at the trial’s outset that it belongs to “international and national events of this century”.
France was changed in the wake of the attacks, with authorities declaring a state of emergency and armed officers constantly patrolling public spaces afterwards.
France emerged from the state of emergency in 2017, after incorporating many of the harshest measures into law.