PARIS – French prosecutors on Friday laid out their sentencing demands in the historic Paris trial of 20 men suspected of critical roles in France’s worst peacetime attack, the Islamic State massacres that killed 130 people in 2015. For Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of that night's attacking jihadis, prosecutors demanded a life sentence.
Three prosecutors summarized nine months of testimony since the start of the marathon trial last September, held in a specially built secure complex inside Paris’ original 13th century Justice Palace, with 12 overflow rooms to accommodate victims, lawyers and journalists.
The Friday night killing spree on Nov. 13, 2015 at a Paris music hall, cafes and the national stadium led to intensified French military action against extremists abroad and a security crackdown at home.
Fourteen of the defendants have been in court. All but one of the six absent men are presumed — but not confirmed — to be dead in Syria or Iraq. Most suspects are accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers back to Europe from Syria, providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.
In all, French prosecutors demanded 10 life sentences; five for people presumed dead, five for other suspects who were physically in court.
Abdeslam, a leading suspect in the trial, waited until April to break his silence.
“Not everyone is a jihadi, but all of those you are judging accepted to take part in a terrorist group, either by conviction, cowardliness or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court this week.
Claims that France was targeted because of its role in the multinational coalition against the Islamic State — as some defendants have claimed — are “an alibi,” Braconnay contended, adding, “All of those who use it are obliged to add a religious argument: ’You are unbelievers.”
Abdeslam, the only member of the Paris attackers who did not join the self-proclaimed IS caliphate in Syria, has told the court that he was a last-minute add-on to the group. He said he “renounced” his mission to explode himself in a bar in northern Paris. Prosecutor Nicolas Le Bris rejected the claim, telling the court that “he’s trying to put you to sleep.”
Abdeslam's brother, who was among those who attacked cafes in Paris, was killed on the spot.
Another key defendant, Mohammed Abrini, accompanied the group to Paris the night before the attacks then returned to Belgium. He was arrested after the March 2016 terror attacks in the Brussels airport and subway. Prosecutors want a life sentence for him as well.
“Salah Abdeslam and Mohammed Abrini made no mystery of their jihadi engagement, but both tried to cover the tracks about their ideas,” prosecutor Le Bris said.
He noted that the café in the Brussels district of Molenbeek run by Abdeslam and his brother “sold alcohol and drugs but also offered jihadi propaganda.”
The café “became the headquarters of a fan club for Abdelhamid Abaaoud,” the man presented as the mastermind of the attacks. He was killed by French police while holed up outside Paris.
The trial will continue with defense pleas. Final words from the defendants are set for June 27, with a verdict expected on June 29.