Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the group that carried out the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, was found guilty of murder Wednesday and sentenced to life in prison without parole — France’s harshest penalty.
Nineteen others were also convicted — six in absentia — for the roles they played in what was the worst terrorist attack during peacetime on French soil and the worst in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004. Some 130 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the carnage that was unleashed via suicide bombs and shootings across Paris — at the Bataclan concert hall, around the Stade de France sports stadium and on bar terraces.
The verdicts bring to a close one of the longest criminal trials in France since World War II, lasting some 10 months and involving 2,500 plaintiffs — nearly 400 of whom took the stand to testify.
Abdeslam’s sentence of life imprisonment without parole was also rare, only handed down in modern France four times before.
During the trial, Abdeslam did not deny being part of the organization of the attacks, but claimed he made the decision not to blow himself up in a bar “out of humanity, not fear.”
“I recognized that I was not perfect, I made mistakes, it is true, but I am not a murderer, I am not a killer. And if you convict me of murder, you will be committing an injustice,” said Abdeslam as he begged for clemency on Monday, the last day he could address the court before the verdict.
The court ultimately rejected his defense because Abdeslam’s explosive belt was ruled not to be functional.
“Salah Abdeslam’s guilt as a co-perpetrator of the acts has been established,” said Jean-Louis Périès, the president of the special criminal court in Paris. “The court also recognized that the explosive belt he was wearing was not functional, which seriously calls into question Salah Abdeslam’s statements about giving up.”
Fourteen of the total group of defendants appeared in court, while all but one of the six others tried in absentia are presumed to be dead in Syria or Iraq. All but one was found guilty on all charges.