CBSN

Verdict delivered against sole surviving Paris attacks suspect

BRUSSELS -- The sole surviving member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cell behind the 2015 Paris extremist attacks, who was once Europe's most wanted fugitive, was found guilty Monday of attempted terrorist murder. Salah Abdeslam was not in the Belgian court as the verdict was announced in the trial into his involvement in a March 15, 2016, police shootout, four months after the Paris attacks that killed 130.

Court president Luc Hennart said Abdeslam and accomplice Sofiane Ayari chose not to attend the reading of the verdict and sentencing. Both were found guilty of attempted terrorist murder and sentenced to 20 year prison terms. The sentences were accompanied by heavy fines, totalling about half a million dollars, to compensate the injured police officers and to the Belgian state.

Abdeslam attended the opening day of the trial in February but had refused to cooperate since. He is being held in a prison in northern France.

"The accused will not be there," Hennart said. "Their presence was not mandatory. If they had wished to be present they could have been there, but they decided not to be present."

"It will not interfere with the procedure," he added.

It remained unclear on Monday when Abdeslam would face trial over the Paris attacks.

The conclusion of the case at Brussels' ornate palace of justice took place amid tight security set up by the armed forces and police.

Abdeslam was close to being arrested in a hideout when he and Ayari fled while another man sprayed gunfire toward police and was killed. Three officers were wounded.

Three days later, Abdeslam was caught in Brussels. Four days after that, extremists struck in the Belgian capital killing 32 people in bomb attacks at the airport and subway system.

Federal prosecutors are seeking 20-year prison sentences for both men, citing a terrorist link in the shootout.

Salah Abdeslam's older brother Ibrahim, 31, blew himself up outside a cafe during the 2015 attacks on Paris. Salah, who had handled a car rental and other logistics, fled Paris on the night of the attacks.  

The brothers had run a bar in Brussels' Molenbeek district, a neighborhood with links to several recent jihadi plots. Both had served jail time for petty crimes - it was in prison that Salah met Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who would become the ringleader of the Paris attacks.