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Lawyer for convicted Paris attacker claims verdict ‘raises serious questions’

An investigator works outside the Bataclan concert hall (Christophe Ena/PA)
An investigator works outside the Bataclan concert hall (Christophe Ena/PA)

The lawyer for the only surviving attacker from the November 2015 terrorist massacre in Paris has criticised her client’s murder conviction and life prison sentence without the possibility of parole, saying the verdict “raises serious questions”.

Olivia Ronen did not say if Salah Abdeslam would appeal against the verdict and sentence. He has 10 days in which to do so.

Abdeslam was found guilty on Wednesday of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise, among other charges, over his involvement in the so-called Islamic State attacks on the Bataclan theatre, Paris cafes and France’s national stadium that killed 130 people.

Among the victims was Briton Nick Alexander, 35, of Weeley, near Colchester.

Nick Alexander died at the Bataclan theatre
Nick Alexander died at the Bataclan theatre (Foreign & Commonwealth Office/PA)

Mr Alexander died at the Bataclan concert hall, where he was selling merchandise for the band Eagles Of Death Metal.

Ms Ronen argued throughout the marathon trial of Abdeslam and 19 other men that her client had not detonated his explosives-packed vest and had not killed anyone the night of the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history.

Nevertheless, Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian, was given the most severe sentence possible in France for murder and that “raises serious questions”, Ms Ronen said in an interview with public radio station France Inter.

During his trial testimony, Abdeslam told a special terrorist court in Paris that he was a last-minute addition to the nine-member attacking squad that spread out across the French capital on November 13 2015 to launch the co-ordinated attacks at multiple sites.

France Paris Attacks Trial
Salah Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and attempted murder (Belgium Federal Police via AP)

Abdeslam said he walked into a bar with explosives strapped to his body but changed his mind and disabled the detonator. He said he could not kill people “singing and dancing”.

The court found, however, that Abdeslam’s explosives vest malfunctioned, dismissing his claim that he decided not to follow through with his part of the attack because of a change of heart.

The other eight attackers, including Abdeslam’s brother, either blew themselves up or were killed by police. Abdeslam drove three of them to the locations of the attacks that night.

The worst carnage was in the Bataclan. Three gunmen burst into the venue, firing indiscriminately.

Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen, left, talks outside the courtroom
Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen, left, talks outside the courtroom (Thibault Camus/AP)

Ninety people died within minutes. Hundreds were held hostage – some gravely injured – for hours before then-president Francois Hollande ordered that the theatre be stormed.

Abdeslam was nowhere near the Bataclan at any time that night, defence lawyer Ms Ronen said, suggesting he therefore did not deserve France’s most severe murder sentence possible.

“We have condemned a person we know was not at the Bataclan as if he was there,” Ms Ronen said. “That raises serious questions.”

The chief prosecutor at the special terrorism court, Jean-Francois Ricard, said the trial of the 20 extremists, the court’s verdicts and sentences, including the harshest one for Abdeslam, were a “triumph for the rule of law” in France.

A woman pays respect to the victims, outside the Bataclan concert hall (Christophe Ena/PA)
A woman pays respect to the victims, outside the Bataclan concert hall (Christophe Ena/PA)

“Abdeslam dropped off three human bombs and killed by proxy,” Mr Ricard said in an interview with another public broadcaster, France Info. “His punishment is just.”

The sentence of life without parole had only previously been given four times in France, for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.

The special terrorism court also convicted 19 other men involved in the attacks.

Eighteen were given various terrorism-related convictions, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge. Some were given life sentences; others walked free after being sentenced to time served.

France Terror Attacks Trial
Lawyers and spectators gather outside the court house after the verdict (Michel Euler/AP)

Abdeslam apologised to the victims at his final court appearance on Monday, saying that listening to their accounts of “so much suffering” changed him.

Georges Salines, who lost his daughter Lola in the Bataclan, felt Abdeslam’s remorse was insincere.

“I don’t think it’s possible to forgive him,” he said.

But for Mr Salines, life without parole is going too far. He said: “I don’t like the idea of in advance deciding that there is no hope. I think it is important to keep hope for any man.”