While public attention during the 10-month trial focused on Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen, 19 other suspected perpetrators and accomplices also were charged. Five are presumed dead, and one is imprisoned in Turkey.
Nineteen of the 20 defendants were found guilty of all charges on Wednesday, but their sentences were not immediately announced.
The court sentenced Abdeslam to the harshest form of a life-in-prison sentence under French law, an extremely rare punishment that will make parole almost impossible. It was not immediately clear whether he would appeal.
Prosecutors contended that Abdeslam only abandoned his plans to kill bystanders after his explosive vest malfunctioned. In court, he disputed the accusation, saying he’d joined the commando plot in its final stages of planning after his brother recruited him but backtracked from using his explosive vest because he saw himself reflected in the people sitting at a cafe. He recalled “a moment of doubt” before he would have blown himself up.
Abdeslam had already been found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court, in a separate trial that focused on his shootout with police as they sought to apprehend the fugitive in the months after the Paris attacks.
The French trial was unprecedented in scale and highly symbolic. Victims were invited to take part as civil parties, and the more than 2,500 plaintiffs were represented by hundreds of lawyers. Authorities built a customized courtroom to allow hundreds of survivors and victims’ relatives to follow the proceedings in person or through video link from overflow rooms. Psychologists were available on-site and via a hotline.
Outside the courthouse on the Île de la Cité in the center of Paris, hundreds of police officers set up barricades and cordoned off large stretches of the island whenever the defendants were in attendance.
Over the 10 months, the court heard from experts; officials, including former president François Hollande; survivors and witnesses. While the proceedings were videotaped, access to the footage was restricted — with no plans for it to be shown on television.
Sharon Weill, a law professor at the American University of Paris who focuses on terrorism trials, said the proceedings aimed to establish criminal responsibility but also give victims a space “to speak about their suffering.”
Still, much remains unknown. Investigators struggled to shed light on key details of the planning and…