Salah Abdeslam, considered by Belgian justice as a co-perpetrator of the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, escaped a new life prison sentence on Friday evening, after that imposed last year in Paris for the attacks of November 13, 2015.

The Assize Court, which delivered its verdict after four days of deliberations, did not follow the requests of the federal prosecutor’s office and refused to impose a new heavy sentence.

In a complex legal demonstration, she referred to a previous Belgian conviction for facts judged to be related to the suicide attacks of March 22, 2016 (35 dead). Namely a shootout with the police that occurred a week earlier in Brussels and which earned Salah Abdeslam a 20-year prison sentence in 2018.

These two offenses fall under the “continuous manifestation of the same criminal intention”, justified the judges.

During the pleadings last week, the defense of the 34-year-old French jihadist threatened to seize the Court of Cassation if the maximum sentence were to be imposed on him again, as in Paris.

“I ask you for repression commensurate with a man who has only one life and I ask you to abandon revenge in favor of justice,” launched Me Delphine Paci.

Salah Abdeslam is “very relieved”, commented his other counsel, Michel Bouchat, on Friday evening after the verdict.

The only surviving member of the commandos who attacked the French capital on November 13, 2015 (130 dead), he was sentenced in June 2022 for his participation in these attacks to irreducible life imprisonment, the heaviest sentence in the French penal code.

Another accused already sentenced in Paris (life sentence with 22 years of security), Mohamed Abrini received a thirty-year prison sentence on Friday evening in Brussels.

This 38-year-old Belgian-Moroccan is the “man in the hat” who accompanied the two jihadists who died in suicide bombers at Brussels-Zaventem airport on March 22, 2016.

An hour later, another attacker blew himself up in a metro train in the middle of the European district.

The double attack claimed by the Islamic State group left a total of 32 dead and hundreds injured.

But during the trial the Assize Court raised the death toll to 35, estimating that three deaths that occurred later had a direct link to the explosions.

Among the eight men declared guilty at the end of July of participation or complicity in these attacks, three were sentenced to life imprisonment: the Belgian-Moroccans Oussama Atar (tried in absentia because presumed dead in Syria) and Bilal El Makhoukhi, as well as the Swede Osama Krayem who had given up on blowing himself up in the metro.

The Tunisian Sofien Ayari, already convicted like Abdeslam for the March 15 shooting in the Brussels commune of Forest, benefited from the same legal reasoning as the latter: no additional sentence.

Finally, the Belgian-Moroccan Ali El Haddad Asufi and the Belgian-Rwandan Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa were sentenced to 20 years and 10 years of imprisonment respectively.

No forfeiture of Belgian nationality was pronounced as the prosecution had desired for five men including Abrini.

Opened in December 2022, this trial was the most important ever organized in Belgium before an assize court. The accused faced a thousand civil parties.

During the hearing, dozens of survivors and relatives of victims gave poignant testimonies about their physical or psychological after-effects.

Many of them complained about the complexity of the procedures to have their damage recognized by the State or insurance companies.

As a sign of protest, around twenty civil parties wore white sweatshirts with slogans like “victims never identified” or “victims abused by expert doctors” during the verdict. .

16/09/2023 13:39:09 –         Bruxelles (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP