A court in Brussels has found Salah Abdeslam (pictured), the only surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks, guilty over a bloody shootout with police in Brussels days before his capture in 2016.
He was sentenced to 20 years in jail along with fellow accused Sofien Ayari. The judge ruled that the shoot-out between terrorists and police in the Brussels suburb of Vorst in a residential area with a school and crèche had the intention of intimidating the population. The shootout happened four months after the Paris attacks.
Abdeslam is not attending the court in Brussels. He remains in a jail cell outside Paris where he is awaiting trial in connection with the Paris attacks. Sofien Ayari, who attended an earlier session, did not appear in court. on Monday.
Federal prosecutors were seeking a 20-year jail sentence for both on charges of attempted murder and possession of illegal arms in a terrorist context. The court dismissed complaints by the defendants’ lawyers that procedural errors had been made during the investigation.
Four Belgian police officers were wounded in a gun battle when they raided a flat, where Abdeslam was suspected to be hiding, in the Forest area of Brussels on March 15, 2016. Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national, and his aide Ayari escaped during the shootout. The two were arrested three days later in the Molenbeek area near his family home.
Abdeslam’s arrest prompted suicide bombers to advance their strike at Brussels airport and a metro station to March 22.
During a court appearance in February this year, Abdeslam refused to answer questions. He said he would only “trust Allah” and accused the court of being biased against Muslims. He said his silence does not make him a criminal and that is his defence.
The judgment said Abdeslam had written a document addressed to his mother saying Allah guided him and chose him among his servants to open his path. It was for that reason that he had to fight the enemies of Allah with all his strength.
He said his brother Brahim, who blew himself up during the Paris attacks, “did not commit suicide — he is a hero of Islam.”
The judgement on Monday said 34 shots were fired during the shootout.