Paris attacks suspect sentenced 20 years over Brussels shootout

Paris attacks suspect sentenced 20 years over Brussels shootout
Salah Abdelslam, the sole surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, was sentenced to 20 years for a shootout with Belgian police days which left four officers wounded.
3 min read
23 April, 2018
Journalists stand in the 'Palais de Justice' courthouse in Brussels during the trial [Getty]
The sole surviving suspect in the Paris attacks was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in prison on terror charges over a bloody gun battle with Belgian police in Brussels days before his capture.

Salah Abdelslam - along with his co-defendant Sofian Ayari - were convicted of terrorism-related attempted murder over the shootout which left four police officers wounded.

Judges at the court in Brussels said that "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.

The sentence was given with both Abdelslam and Ayari absent. Ayari is in a prison in Belgium.

During the gun battle on 15 March 2016, in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest, several police officers were wounded and an alleged Abdeslam accomplice was killed.

One of the injured police officers was still suffering from after-effects including brain lesions, epileptic fits and vision and balance problems.

Both Abdeslam and Ayari were captured days after the shootout, ending a four-month manhunt for Abdeslam for his alleged role in the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Abdeslam is linked to the same cell that carried out suicide bombings in Brussels a week after the gun battle. Thirty-two people were killed at Brussels airport and a metro station near the EU's headquarters.

Investigators believed that Abdelslam's arrest had prompted the Brussels bombers to bring forward the 2016 attacks, originally planned for a later date.

Abdeslam, born in Brussels of Moroccan origin, has spent nearly 20 months in isolation, under 24-hour video surveillance, at a prison in the Paris region since his transfer to French authorities in April last year.

Abdeslam's lawyer Sven Mary told reporters outside the court that he would consult with his client at the prison where he is being held in France "and then we will see if he wants to lodge an appeal".

Abdeslam would likely have to serve the full Belgian 20-year term on top of any sentence that arises from the French trial over the Paris attacks, Mary added.

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 added that his brother Brahim, who blew himself up during the Paris attacks, "did not commit suicide - he is a hero of Islam".

Abdeslam had previously told his brother from prison that he chose not to detonate his explosives, "if I wanted, there would have been more victims."

Monday's judgment said a total of 34 shots were fired during the shootout.

An organisation representing victims of the Brussels attacks and their families is seeking symbolic damages of one euro.