PARIS: The sole surviving member of an Daesh terror cell that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 was handed a whole-life sentence by a French court on Wednesday, the toughest punishment possible.
Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan origin, was captured alive by police four months after the bloodbath.
The sentence was read out by the head of a five-judge panel overseeing the marathon trial of 20 men accused of involvement in the worst peace-time atrocity in modern French history.
The other 19 suspects, accused of either plotting or offering logistical support, were found guilty, with their sentences ranging from two years to life in prison.
Hundreds of survivors and witnesses have attended proceedings since their start in September and they packed out the benches of the specially constructed courtroom as the verdicts were read out.
A team of 10 Daesh militants laid siege to the French capital, attacking the national sports stadium, bars and the Bataclan concert hall in an assault that traumatized the country.
The trial has been the biggest in modern French history, the culmination of a six-year, multi-country investigation whose findings run to more than a million pages.
Abdeslam had begun his appearances by defiantly declaring himself as an “Daesh fighter,” but finished apologizing to victims and asking for leniency.
His lawyers had argued against the whole-life sentence, which prosecutors had called for.
It offers only a small chance of parole after 30 years and has been pronounced only four times since being created in 1994.
The former pot-smoking party lover discarded his suicide belt on the night of the attack and fled back to his hometown, Brussels, where many of the extremists lived.
He told the court that he had a change of heart and decided not to kill people.
But prosecutors have argued that he shared the murderous intent of the rest of the attack team and that his equipment simply malfunctioned.
“Those who committed these heinous crimes are nothing more than lowlife terrorists and criminals,” prosecutor Nicolas Le Bris said in his closing statement earlier this month.
The November 2015 attacks deeply traumatized France, with the choice of targets — music and sports venues, the capital’s famed bars and cafes — and the manner of the violence seemingly designed to inflict maximum shock.
The huge loss of life marked the start of a gruesome and violent period in Europe, as Daesh claimed responsibility for numerous attacks across the continent.
France, under then president Francois Hollande, who testified at the trial, ramped up its military campaign to defeat the extremists in Syria and Iraq.
In the absence of the rest of the attackers, the men on trial besides Abdeslam are suspected of offering logistical support or plotting other attacks.
Only 14 out of the 20 appeared in person, with the rest missing, presumed dead.
One of them, Mohamed Abrini, has admitted to driving some of the Paris attackers to the capital and explained how he was meant to take part but backed out.
The 37-year-old also started out justifying Daesh violence as part of a fight against Western countries, but ended by apologizing to victims in the trial’s final stages.
The court handed him a life sentence with 22 years as a minimum term.
Also on trial is Swedish citizen Osama Krayem, who has been identified in a notorious Daesh video showing a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.
The overall commander of the Paris attacks, senior Syria-based Daesh figure Oussama Atar, was also tried in absentia but is presumed dead.

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