By NICOLAS VAUX-MONTAGNY, JEFFREY SCHAEFFER and BARBARA SURK
PARIS (AP) — The lawyer for the only surviving attacker from the November 2015 terrorist massacre in Paris criticized her client’s murder conviction and life prison sentence without the possibility of parole, saying Thursday the verdict “raises serious questions.”
Salah Abdeslam, the chief suspect in the Islamic State attacks on the Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and France’s national stadium that killed 130 people, was found guilty Wednesday of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise, among other charges.
His lawyer, Olivia Ronen, argued throughout a marathon trial of Abdeslam and 19 other men that her client had not detonated his explosives-packed vest and hadn’t killed anyone the night of the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history,
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian, was given the most severe sentence possible in France for murder and that “raises serious questions,” Ronen said in an interview with public radio station France Inter.
During his trial testimony, Abdeslam told a special terrorist court in Paris that he was a last- minute addition to the nine-member explosives squad that spread out across the French capital on Nov. 13, 2015 to launch the coordinated attacks at multiple sites.
Abdeslam said he walked into a bar with explosives strapped to his body but changed his mind and disabled the detonator. He said he could not kill people “singing and dancing.”
The court found that Abdeslam’s explosives vest malfunctioned, dismissing his claim that he decided not to follow through with his part of the attack because of a change of heart.
The other nine attackers either blew themselves up or were killed by police. The worst carnage was in the Bataclan. Three gunmen burst into the venue, firing indiscriminately. Ninety people died within minutes. Hundreds were held hostage – some gravely injured – for hours before then-President Francois Hollande ordered the theatre stormed.
Abdeslam was nowhere near the Bataclan at any time that night, defense lawyer Ronen said, suggesting he therefore did not deserve France’s most severe murder sentence possible.
“We have condemned a person we know was not at the Bataclan as if he was there,” Ronen said. “That raises serious questions.” She did not say if Abdeslam would appeal the verdict and sentence.
The sentence of life without parole has only been given four times in the country, for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.
The special terrorism court also convicted 19 other men involved in the attacks.
Of the other defendants, 18 were given various terrorism-related convictions, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge. Some were given life sentences; others walked free after being sentenced to time served.
They have 10 days to appeal.
Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press writers Alex Turnbull, Oleg Cetinic and Masha Macpherson in Paris contributed to this report.
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