Tears of relief from Bataclan survivors as sentencing marks 'slamming shut of iron door'

The sole survivor of the terrorist cell that killed 130 people in Paris was given a life sentence without parole

Paramedics move an injured person from the Bataclan theatre after the November 2015 attacks. AP
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Survivors of the Bataclan terrorist attack, which struck Paris in November 2015 and shocked the world, have welcomed the whole-life sentence for terrorist Salah Abdelslam, saying it is the first step in a long road of healing.

The handing down of the toughest possible punishment, which comes on the back of a 10-month trial at the cost of €8 million (£6.88m), was likened to an “iron door slamming” shut by one victim.

Abdelslam, 32, is the sole surviving member of an ISIS terrorist cell that killed 130 people at the Bataclan theatre and other locations in the worst attack to happen in France since the Second World War.

The Frenchman of Moroccan origin was captured by police four months after the attacks. Following the largest criminal trial in France’s history, he was on Wednesday convicted of murder and sentenced to life behind bars without parole.

The court also found 19 other men guilty of involvement in the attacks. Some were handed life sentences while others walked free after being sentenced to time already served.

"The sentences are quite heavy. They won't get out of prison immediately. We are going to enjoy it," a tearful survivor named Sophie said outside the court.

“I feel a lot of relief. Ten months of hearings — it has helped us to rebuild.”

A survivor of the Bataclan attacks speaks to reporters in Paris. EPA

David Fritz, another survivor, said the culmination of the trial marked a turning point in his healing process.

"I feel I have grown up,” he said. “It is important to see that justice has been done. It was necessary. It has a bit of a floating moment, like slamming a big iron door."

But fellow survivor Bruno Poncet expressed unease at the punishments given to the terrorists.

"Some sentences may seem a bit heavy,” he told EuroNews. “I wonder about our prisons, which are already overloaded. I am afraid that we are creating monsters.”

But he said the end of the trial would allow him to get his life back on track.

"It is a real relief to have finished with the trial ... there is a fear of emptiness today but it is time to get out. I'm going back to work on Monday, I can't wait," he said.

Gerard Chemla, a lawyer representing victims at the trial, said: "My first reaction is that we have the feeling of turning a page after the verdicts.”

Francois Hollande, who was president of France at the time of the attack, said the terrorists were “judged in accordance with the law”.

He declared after the attack that the country was "at war" with the extremists and their self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Mr Hollande, who testified in November, called the trial "exceptional" and "exemplary”.

Abdeslam’s behaviour changed dramatically throughout the trial, which began last September. He began his appearances by defiantly declaring himself an ISIS "fighter" but finished tearfully, apologising to victims and asking for leniency.

In his final statement, he urged the judges not to give him a full-life term, seeking to emphasise that he had not killed anyone himself.

"I made mistakes, it is true. But I am not a murderer, I am not a killer," he said.

His lawyers also argued against the whole-life sentence, which prosecutors demanded. It offers only a small chance of parole after 30 years and has been pronounced only four times since being created in 1994.

Abdeslam discarded his suicide belt on the night of the attack and fled back to his home town, Brussels, where many of the extremists lived.

He told the court that he had a change of heart and decided not to kill people.

"I changed my mind out of humanity, not out of fear," he said.

But after hearing that his suicide belt was defective, the judges concluded that this "cast serious doubt" on his apparent renunciation of the plot. They ruled he was a "co-author" of the attacks, which "constituted a single crime scene".

Ten terrorists laid siege to the French capital, attacking a national sports stadium, bars and the Bataclan theatre in an assault immediately claimed from Syria by ISIS.

In one instance, the court heard a recording of gunmen taunting people trapped in the Bataclan as they fired on them with Kalashnikov rifles from a balcony.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 10:48 AM
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