French terrorist Salah Abdeslam 'incapable of showing empathy for victims'

He has requested to serve his sentence in Belgium not France

A sketch shows Belgian federal public prosecutor Paule Somers at the trial of those convicted of the terrorist attacks of March 22, 2016, at the Brussels-Capital Assizes Court on September 4. AFP
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A Belgian prosecutor on Tuesday asked a jury to sentence French terrorist Salah Abdeslam to life in prison for his role in ISIS-claimed suicide attacks against Brussels that killed 35 people and wounded hundreds.

“After terrorising France, he decided to continue serving his terrorist group and continue his war in Belgium with the desire to kill innocent and unknown victims,” said prosecutor Paule Somers.

Abdeslam was sentenced in June 2022 to life in prison without parole by a French judge for co-organising the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Like Abdeslam, a number of members of the same ISIS cell that planned the Paris and Brussels attacks were tried separately in both countries.

A Belgian jury has already found Abdeslam guilty of murder, attempted murder and participation in the acts of a terrorist group.

A sentence is expected next week.

Ms Somers described Abdeslam as full of self-pity but incapable of showing empathy for his victims.

“I was shocked by his attitude during this trial, " she told the jury.

“He spoke incessantly despite harrowing accounts given by victims. He even laughed and showed self-pity despite showing no pity for his victims.”

Ms Somers was referring to a request filed on Monday to serve his upcoming sentence in Belgium, not France, arguing that France infringed his human rights.

Prosecutors also requested a life sentence for five of Abdeslam's accomplices who were found guilty in July of the same crimes.

Mohamed Abrini, known as the “man with the hat,” Osama Krayem, Ali El Haddad Asufi, Bilal El Makhouki, and Osama Atar, who is presumed dead, all deserve the maximum punishment under Belgian law, which includes a minimum jail time of 15 years, prosecutors said.

They reiterated that dual nationals must lose their Belgian citizenship. Atar, Abrini, Asufi, and El Makhouki are also Moroccan.

Herve Bayingana Muhirwa, who was found guilty of participation in a terrorist group but not of murder or attempted murder, is also Rwandan.

Prosecutors asked that he be sentenced to the maximum 10 years in prison.

On Monday, they said that an eighth man, Tunisian Sofien Ayari, had already been sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison in a separate trial in 2018.

He had been found guilty of participation in a terrorist organisation but absolved of charges of murder and attempted murder.

Krayem and Abrini had both initially planned to be part of the group of suicide attackers but changed their minds at the last minute.

Abrini was sentenced to life in prison with a 22-year minimum sentence in Paris. He was also supposed to be a suicide attacker in France but withdrew from the plan the day before, French media reported.

His lawyers have attempted to portray his decision as clemency for his victims. But he did not refuse to kill – he just did not want to die, prosecutors said.

“What struck me [during the trial] were his efforts to minimise his role despite all the signs showing that he was one of the pillars of this cell,” said prosecutor Bernard Michel.

Ms Somers described Krayem, a Swedish national of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian origin, as particularly dangerous.

Krayem is known for having attended the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS in Syria in 2015. He had previously described himself as incapable of feeling emotions and refused to attend a number of hearings during the trial.

Reading from extracts of a 2019 police interrogation, Ms Somers quoted Krayem as saying: “Since I went to Syria and then to prison, I lost a big part of my humanity [ …] If I kill someone, a father or a mother who has children, I feel nothing. Like this interview, or a visit from my parents, my life is neutral”.

“If I am sentenced to 30 or 50 years in prison in court, for me, that's neutral,” he said. “All my feelings are gone.”

Updated: September 05, 2023, 12:11 PM