BRUSSELS (AFP) – A Belgian court on Monday found Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, guilty of terrorism-related attempted murder over a shootout with police in Brussels days before his capture in 2016, and sentenced him to 20 years in jail.
In its judgment, the court in the Belgian capital said “there can be no doubt” about militant Salah Abdeslam and his co-defendant Sofiane Ayari’s involvement in extremism.
Prosecutors had asked for 20-year jail terms for both.
Neither 28-year-old Abdeslam — who is being held in jail in France pending a separate trial over the 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 people died — nor Ayari, 24, were in court for the verdict.
Four police officers were wounded in the gun battle after police acting on a tip-off over the Paris attacks raided a flat in the Forest area of Brussels on March 15, 2016.
Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national, 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.
Belgian police mounted tight security around the imposing Palace of Justice building in Brussels for the verdict.
Abdeslam has spent most of the last two years in jail in France.
He was transported to the court from France for the first day of the trial amid tight security including a helicopter escort, while Tunisian national Ayari, 24, is in jail in Belgium.
On the first day of the trial, Abdeslam accused the court of being biased against Muslims. He then refused to attend the rest of the proceedings.
Investigators say Abdeslam’s arrest spurred the Brussels bombers to bring forward the 2016 attacks, which had originally been planned for a later date, as they feared they could be captured.
Prosecutors have said that DNA links Abdeslam to the apartment in the Forest district of Brussels where the shooting took place, but not to the weapons that were used.
After Abdeslam refused to return to court for the trial in February, his lawyer Sven Mary sought the case’s dismissal on a technicality over how the judges were named to investigate the gun battle, and said media leaks had denied him a fair trial.
But lawyers for police wounded in the gun battle accused Abdeslam of “mocking” the trial.
One of the injured police officers was still suffering from after-effects including brain lesions, epileptic fits and vision and balance problems.
An organisation representing victims of the Brussels attacks and their families has asked for symbolic damages of one euro from the trial.
The Belgian trial is a prelude to a bigger one that Abdeslam will face in France at a later date over the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, which were claimed by the Islamic State militant group.