Belgian Court Finds 10 Guilty Over Ties to Paris Attacks in November 2015

Belgian Court Finds 10 Guilty Over Ties to Paris Attacks in November 2015

PARIS — A Belgian court on Thursday found 10 people guilty of providing assistance to the Islamist terrorist group that killed 130 people in and around Paris in 2015. Sentences for some of those convicted ranged from 100 hours of community service to a three-year suspended prison sentence.

The Paris attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, were carried out by a network of Islamic State operatives, several of whom lived in Belgium and used the country as a logistical staging ground to prepare the massacre by tapping into a network of friends, acquaintances and criminals.

The verdict in Belgium came a day after 20 men were convicted in Paris, with sentences ranging from two years to life in prison, over their roles in the same attacks — a series of shootings and suicide bombings at the Bataclan concert hall, in an area outside France’s national soccer stadium and on the terraces of cafes and restaurants in central Paris.

The attacks were the bloodiest in a string of terrorist assaults across Europe over a span of a few years — including in Brussels; in Nice, France; in Berlin; and in Barcelona, Spain.

The trial in Belgium, held over the past two months at a court in Brussels, related to minor accomplices who were accused of having helped the terrorist network that organized the Paris attacks.

“The justice system intends to cast a wide net,” Olivier Mallinus, a spokesman at the Belgian court, said at the start of the trial. “The defendants are all suspected of having a link with the perpetrators of the attacks.”

The defendants — 13 men and one woman, including two who were tried in absentia as they are presumed dead — were not tried in France because they were suspected of having lesser roles in the Paris plot and faced lesser charges.

Belgian prosecutors accused them of hiding attackers who were on the run, facilitating communications with other members of the Islamic State and helping to cover up evidence that could incriminate the group.

Abid Aberkane, one of the main suspects, was found guilty of giving shelter to Salah Abdeslam — his cousin and the sole surviving member of the team that carried out the Paris attacks — and one of his accomplices. Mr. Aberkane was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term on Thursday, Mr. Mallinus said.

Mr. Abdeslam was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday by the court in Paris.

Virginie Taelman, Mr. Aberkane’s lawyer, said that her client had yielded to Mr. Abdeslam’s demands to house him and an accomplice in March 2016. Both had just escaped a police raid on a hide-out where they were staying in Brussels. Mr. Abdeslam had fled Paris after the attacks and was the target of an intense hunt.

Ms. Taelman told the Belgium news agency Belga that her client had “felt pressured; he didn’t see any alternatives, he didn’t know what to do.”

The court in Brussels found four other defendants guilty and gave them sentences ranging from 100 hours of community service to 30 months in jail. Three more were also found guilty but the court ruled that the convictions would not remain in their criminal records, giving them no sentence unless they commit a new crime within a certain time frame. The two defendants who were presumed dead were also found guilty.

Four other defendants were acquitted by the court.

The Islamic State network that carried out the Paris attacks in November 2015 also struck in Belgium several months later with suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and metro in March 2016 that killed 32 people, days after Mr. Abdeslam’s arrest.

Ten men accused of involvement in the Brussels attacks are scheduled to be tried in October, including several who were convicted in Paris on Wednesday.

The attacks in Paris and Brussels exposed European failures to share intelligence, secure borders and address a dangerous mix of criminality and radicalism in despondent immigrant neighborhoods upon which Islamist extremists preyed.

Molenbeek, a Brussels neighborhood of nearly 100,000 people that was home to key members of the terrorist network that plotted the attacks, and to many of Thursday’s defendants, became a symbol of those failures, though the town has since tried to change its image.

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