Twenty men were sentenced at the end of the marathon trial, held in Paris's historic Palais de Justice, that lasted nine months, with over 2,000 plaintiffs and more than 300 lawyers involved.
A special French court has found 20 men guilty of involvement in the Daesh terrorist attacks on the Bataclan theatre, Paris cafes and France’s national stadium in 2015 that killed 130 people in the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history.
Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries read the verdicts on Wednesday in a courthouse surrounded by unprecedented security, wrapping up a nine-month trial.
The chief suspect and only survivor of the 10-member team of terrorists, Salah Abdeslam, was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise, among other charges.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the toughest sentence in France.
Of the defendants besides Abdeslam, 18 were handed various terrorism-related convictions, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge.
Over the course of the nine-month trial, Abdeslam proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologised to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his "mistakes."
For victims’ families and survivors of the attacks, the trial has been excruciating yet crucial in their quest for justice and closure.
For months, the packed main chamber and 12 overflow rooms in the 13th century Justice Palace heard the harrowing accounts by the victims, along with testimony from Abdeslam.
The other defendants are largely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, which also was claimed by Daesh.
Irreparably scarred, but not broken
For survivors and those mourning loved ones, the trial was an opportunity to recount deeply personal accounts of the horrors inflicted that night and to listen to details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion among strangers.
Some hoped for justice, but most just wanted tell the accused directly that they have been left irreparably scarred, but not broken.
“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people,” said Dominique Kielemoes at the start of the trial in September 2021. Her son bled to death in one of the cafes.
Hearing the testimony of victims was “crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation,” Kielemoes said.
“It wasn’t a mass — these were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations,” she said.
Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries said at the trial's outset that it belongs to “international and national events of this century. ” France emerged from the state of emergency in 2017, after incorporating many of the harshest measures into law.
Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots, was the only defendant tried on several counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organisation.
In closing arguments, prosecutors stressed that all 20 defendants, who had fanned out around the French capital, armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosives-packed vests to mount parallel attacks, are members of Daesh responsible for the massacres.
Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s policies in the Middle East and hundreds of civilian deaths in Western air strikes in Daesh-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.