“The hearing is resumed, please sit down,” announces the president of the specially composed assize court Jean-Louis Périès.
The time of the verdict, the epilogue of ten long months of debates, has just sounded at the trial of November 13.
After hours of waiting, the defendants entered the box a little after 8 p.m., their features drawn.
Salah Abdeslam is introduced first.
He is seated, as always, at the end nearest the court.
The room, crowded as ever, filled with very many victims sometimes coming with their families, was silent.
“At the end of 148 days of hearing, where nearly 400 civil parties were heard, 189 lawyers and 30 defense lawyers intervened, the court wanted to write detailed reasons”, begins President Périès.
He specifies that they are more than 120 pages and that he does not intend “to impose the reading of this document” which will obviously be “held at the disposal of the parties”.
He is therefore preparing “to indicate the main elements retained in support of this decision”.
Then he specifies this, which immediately makes it clear that the judgment rendered will be severe: “The answer was yes by a majority of votes to all the questions with the exception” of one of the twenty defendants (Farid Kharkhach).
Clearly: “The 19 others are found guilty of all the offenses for which they were sent to court.
In the box, the defendants freeze.
Salah Abdeslam's explosive vest "was not functional"
The magistrate reads his "excerpts" at top speed.
The strongest sentences are inflicted on those whom the national anti-terrorist prosecutor's office had called "the two survivors of the death convoy", Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini.
In accordance with the required sentence, the tenth man of the commandos of November 13, 2015 is sentenced to incompressible criminal imprisonment – that is to life imprisonment.
“His guilt as a co-perpetrator” of all the attacks perpetrated that evening was upheld, the court considering “that the different targets should be analyzed as a single crime scene”.
For the judges, “the
vest was not functional”, which means that they “seriously question” his statements on a renunciation, whether his target was “the metro or a bar.
The judges did not agree with the scenario of a last-minute recruit either, considering "that his integration into the cell was well before the attacks, contrary to what he said".
For Mohamed Abrini, "the man in the hat" of the Brussels attacks, the judgment also complies with the requisitions.
Salah Abdeslam's childhood friend is sentenced to life imprisonment, with 22 years of security.
For the court, this Belgian-Moroccan "acquired in the theses of the Islamic State" from the departure of his brother in Syria, was offered to participate in the attacks during his own stay, from the summer of 2014.
In addition to "his trip to Syria testifying to his desire to wage jihad", he was then "fully integrated into the terrorist cell", participating in numerous preparations.
“Passenger of the Clio, lead car of the convoy of death, he cannot claim to have been unaware until the last moment of the purpose and the targets of the attacks.
Sentences below the requisitions for 11 of the accused
The verdict is implacable for the "headliners" of this trial, but below the requisitions for the eleven other defendants.
Thus Mohamed Bakkali, who, according to the court, "played a key role in the logistics of the attacks", was sentenced to 30 years in prison when the PNAT had requested life imprisonment.
The two soldiers of the Islamic State "chosen for a mission in Europe", Osama Krayem and Sofien Ayari, also escape the life imprisonment claimed.
They are sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Other sentences lower than those requested: that of the "two upset operational staff", Muhammad Usman and Adel Haddadi, stranded on their journey to Europe, sentenced to 18 years in prison (20 years required).
The judgment is well below the requisitions for two defendants, with a ten-year sentence for Ali El Haddad Asufi (16 required) and a two-year prison sentence (six required) for Farid Kharkhach, says the intermediary of the forgers - the only one for whom the qualification of terrorism has been abandoned.
As for Yassine Atar, brother of the "mastermind of the attacks" and cousin of its chief logisticians, the court considers him guilty of the terrorist association of criminals and condemns him to the intermediate sentence of eight years in prison (nine required).
The free defendants will not return to prison
For the three free defendants, the president speaks directly to them to tell them that the sentences imposed will prevent them from returning behind bars.
On his jump seat, Abdellah Chouaa (four years in prison, three of which are suspended) is in tears.
As soon as the hearing is over, he rushes into the arms of his wife and his lawyers.
Many civil parties hug him.
Read alsoAttacks of November 13, 2015: the five lessons of a historic trial
His comrade Ali Oulkadi (five years including three suspended) does not hold back his tears either.
He too embraces the victims who come to surround him.
"I'm going to find my children," he says, upset.