Paris attacks suspect gets 20 years over Brussels shootout
BRUSSELS - A Belgian court on Monday sentenced the sole surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, to 20 years in prison on terror charges over a bloody gun battle with police in Brussels days before his capture in 2016.
Abdeslam's co-defendant Sofiane Ayari received the same sentence after the pair were convicted of terrorism-related attempted murder over the shootout in which four police officers were wounded.
Judges at the court in Brussels said that "there can be no doubt about their commitment to radicalism" as they handed down the maximum jail term demanded by Belgian prosecutors at the trial in February.
Neither Abdeslam, 28, a Belgian-born French national, nor Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian citizen, was in court to hear the verdict.
Abdeslam is being held in jail in France pending a separate trial over the November 2015 Paris attacks, claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, in which 130 people died.
The pair were convicted of opening fire on a team of Belgian and French police who raided a flat in the Forest area of Brussels on March 15, 2016, following a tip-off about the Paris attacks. A third jihadist was killed in the raid.
At the time Abdeslam was regarded as the most wanted man in Europe.
- 'Allah guided me' -
Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national, fled the scene but was arrested three days later in the largely immigrant Molenbeek area of the Belgian capital, near his family home.
On March 22, suicide bombers from a cell linked to the Paris attacks killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more at Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital.
Abdeslam's lawyer Sven Mary told reporters outside the court that he would consult with his client at the prison where he is being held in France "and then we will see if he wants to lodge an appeal."
He said Abdeslam would likely have to serve the full Belgian 20-year term on top of any sentence that arises from the French trial over the Paris attacks.
The judgment said Abdeslam had written a document addressed to his mother saying that "Allah guided me and chose me among his servants to open his path. It is for that reason that I had to fight the enemies of Allah with all my strength."
He added that his brother Brahim, who blew himself up during the Paris attacks, "did not commit suicide -- he is a hero of Islam."
Monday's judgement said a total of 34 shots were fired during the shootout.