The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office on Tuesday requested a new life prison sentence against Frenchman Salah Abdeslam and Belgian-Moroccan Mohamed Abrini for their participation in the March 2016 attacks in Brussels which left 35 dead.
Both were also among the main accused in the trial which ended in June 2022 in Paris for the attacks of November 13, 2015 (130 dead), organized by the same jihadist cell.
The first received an irreducible life sentence on June 29, 2022 in Paris, and the second a life sentence with a security sentence of 22 years.
After having “terrorized France”, Salah Abdeslam “decided to continue his war, wishing to kill innocent and unknown victims”, federal prosecutor Paule Somers lambasted Tuesday morning at the Brussels trial.
“He hasn’t changed, he’s still just as radicalized, so no, he doesn’t deserve any mitigating circumstances,” she added. Abdeslam remained impassive in the box.
Then speaking about Mohamed Abrini, the other prosecutor, Bernard Michel, described the latter as “a pillar of the cell”, and judged that life imprisonment was “the only sentence proportional to his actions”.
Abrini, who accompanied the “death convoy” to Paris on the eve of November 13, is the “man in the hat” filmed by video surveillance at Brussels-Zaventem airport on March 22, 2016 in the company of two attackers.
Unlike Abdeslam, Abrini, one of his childhood friends from the Brussels district of Molenbeek, never contested his participation in the Brussels attacks. The prosecution also requested on Tuesday that he be stripped of his Belgian nationality because “he betrayed the country”.
On the morning of March 22, 2016, two men blew themselves up in the departure hall of Zaventem airport and a third, an hour later, in a metro train at Maelbeek station.
Results: 32 dead and hundreds injured.
But the Assize Court which judges the perpetrators of these suicide attacks counted 35 deaths, estimating that three deaths which occurred later had a direct link to the explosions.
Abdeslam, who will be 34 on September 15, denies his participation, arguing that he was in prison on the day of the incident. He was arrested on March 18, 2016 in Molenbeek.
But in its judgment delivered on July 25, the Brussels Assize Court swept aside its line of defense.
“An essential help”
The popular jury estimated that Abdeslam had provided “indispensable assistance” to these attacks, claimed, like those in Paris, by the jihadist organization Islamic State.
The French jihadist “never dissociated himself” from the group which retreated to Brussels after November 13 and, as certain writings testify, “chose to stay in Europe to “finish the work””, according to the motivations of the judgment .
Suspended this summer for six weeks, this extraordinary trial which began in December 2022 entered its home stretch on Monday with submissions on the sentences.
Among the ten accused there were two acquittals. And six of the eight culprits are considered co-perpetrators of the March 22 attacks, facing life imprisonment.
The prosecution requested this maximum sentence in four cases: for Abdeslam, Abrini, as well as Osama Atar (tried in absentia because he is presumed dead in Syria) and the Swede Osama Krayem, who accompanied the suicide bomber from the metro before turning back.
For these four men, the life prison sentence must, in the eyes of the prosecution, be accompanied by “a provision to the sentencing court for 15 years”, a legal device which further removes the prospect of a Conditional liberation.
Two other defendants were found guilty on July 25 of “participating in the activities of a terrorist group,” facing a maximum of 10 years in prison.
The verdict is expected in mid-September.