x

Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam guilty of attempted murder in Belgium

Salah Abdeslam was sentenced to 20 years in prison

In this file photo taken on February 5, 2018 prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam (L) sits beside his alleged accomplice Sofiane Ayari (R) as they are surrounded by Belgian special police officers in the courtroom at the "Palais de Justice" courthouse in Brussels for the opening of his trial. Emmanuel Dunand/ AFP Photo
In this file photo taken on February 5, 2018 prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam (L) sits beside his alleged accomplice Sofiane Ayari (R) as they are surrounded by Belgian special police officers in the courtroom at the "Palais de Justice" courthouse in Brussels for the opening of his trial. Emmanuel Dunand/ AFP Photo

A Belgian court has sentenced the sole surviving Paris attacks suspect of terror-related attempted murder.

Salah Abdeslam was given the maximum 20-year-sentence by a Belgian judge for his part in a gunfight with police in Brussels in March 2016, which led to his arrest.

Abdeslam is being held in a French prison while he awaits the trial for his part in the ISIS-inspired Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

Neither Abdeslam, 28, nor his co-accused Sofien Ayari, 24, who was also handed a 20-year-sentence, were in court to hear the ruling on Monday.

Judge Marie France Keutgen said that "there can be no doubt" about the two men's involvement with "radicalism".

French national Abdeslam only attended the opening day of the trial in February but had refused to cooperate since, alleging the court was biased against Muslims.

"I am accused, so I am here. My silence does not make me a criminal or guilty. That is my defence and I am defending myself by remaining silent," he said on the first day of the trial.

"Judge me. Do as you want with me. It is in my Lord that I place my trust. I am not afraid of you."

Court president Luc Hennart said Abdeslam and his alleged accomplice could have been present for the verdict if they had wanted.

"It will not interfere with the procedure," Mr Hennart said.

Abdeslam had been on the run for four months after the terror attacks where his brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.

It was during a police raid in a flat in the Forest area of Brussels that he was eventually captured.

Four police officers were injured during the raid after the occupants began shooting at them.

Abdeslam and Tunisian national Ayari escaped the building while a third occupant of the flat was killed by police.

Abdeslam was discovered three days later in the Molenbeek area of the Belgian capital and sent back to France.

Fingerprints belonging to Abdeslam were found in the flat linking him to where the shooting took place but no DNA was found on the weapons used.

Abdeslam's lawyer Sven Mary said it was unclear whether his client had actually fired the shots at officers trying to break into the flat.

"If there is doubt, he should have been let go, it's that simple," Mr Mary said.

The trial took place under tight security at Brussels' palace of justice.

"As all our demands have been met we can be satisfied," said Maryse Alie, a lawyer for the police. "The judgement says that firing at policemen on duty is a very serious crime."

Lawyers said one of the police officers was still suffering brain lesions, epileptic fits and vision and balance problems from the shooting.

_______________

Read more:

Europe proposes new finance rules to target terrorists

France arrests cleric accused of sending fighters to Syria

Islamic terrorist threat clouds French call for unity

_______________

Investigators said the capture of Abdeslam had led suicide bombers plotting an attack in Brussels to bring their plans forward.

On March 22, four days after the suspect's arrest, an ISIS-linked terror cell killed 32 people and injured hundreds more in three coordinated attacks on the city's airport and one of its metro stations.

Abdeslam will face a much bigger trial for his part in the Paris attacks although there has been no date set.

Prosecutors in France argue that Abdeslam helped the attackers, who targeted a concert hall, bars and restaurants, by hiring cars, hotel rooms and apartments.