2016 Brussels attacks: 'To send me to France is to send me to death,' says Abdeslam

Returning terrorist Salah Abdeslam to France would violate his human rights, his defence team argued in a Brussels court on Monday. "To send me to France is to send me to death," said Abdeslam, who was transferred to Belgium for the ongoing trial over the 2016 Brussels attacks.

Abdeslam is one of eight men being tried for their role in the 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels, in which 35 people were killed and around 340 injured. In 2022, he was sentenced to life in prison in France for his role in the 2015 Paris attacks.

Abdeslam is a French national but was born and raised in Belgium. In July, he was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context and membership of a terrorist group in Brussels. The Brussels court has yet to deliberate and decide on his sentence. 

Stripped, beaten and kicked

As the Brussels trial draws to a close, Abdeslam's defence team is trying to prevent him from being sent back to France. In a summary hearing at the French-speaking Court of First Instance in Brussels on Monday, his lawyers argued that his human rights would be at risk if he were returned to a French prison.

During his 6.5 years at Fleury-Mérogis prison in France while awaiting trial and after he was sentenced, Abdeslam was filmed around the clock by two cameras in his 9m2 cell, his lawyer Harold Sax said. Lawyer Martin Vettes said France's intention was not only to lock Abdeslam up for life but "to treat him in the cruellest way".

"To send me to France is to send me to death," said Abdeslam himself. "I heard them laughing all day long. I was stripped, beaten and kicked in the head," he said of his time in French prison. "Since I was mediatised, it has been hell for me, and they can do whatever they want with me."

"I only saw my father five times in 6.5 years. I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone. My family is a support for me. Sending me there is also a punishment for them," Abdeslam added. "It's a nightmare, whether it's here or there. But at least it is more livable here."

Whole life sentence

Sax argued that the whole life sentence Abdeslam received for his role in the 2015 Paris attacks violated the European Convention on Human Rights. A whole life sentence means life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. "Living every day with the thought that you will never get out is unbearable," said Abdeslam.

Abdeslam's life sentence can technically be reviewed after 30 years, but Sax argued that it is being made "materially impossible" for Abdeslam to meet the reintegration guarantees on which that review depends. For example, he is not allowed any social contact in prison.

"The whole life sentence has replaced the death penalty, but it is no more humane," lawyer Delphine Paci said. "It does not kill people, but it lets them die quietly."



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