2016 Brussels attacks: Sentencing arguments draw to close

The sentencing arguments in the Brussels Assize Court concerning the March 2016 terrorist attacks on Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station drew to a close on Monday.

The lawyers who represent Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini, both already convicted over the attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris, are asking that no new sentence be imposed on their clients. Abdeslam and Abrini have been found guilty of murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context, as well as participation in the activities of a terrorist group, by the jury in the Brussels trial.

The defence's request is based on Article 62 of the Belgian penal code, which stipulates "that in the event of a combination of several crimes, the strongest sentence alone will be imposed". According to criminal lawyers, the specially constituted Paris Assize Court has imposed the heaviest sentence.

The prosecution, however, believes it is appropriate to apply Article 65 paragraph 2, meaning the judge can consider the sentences already handed down for previous acts relating to the same ideal combination of offences.

In this case, according to the public prosecutor, the French conviction should not be taken into account because of article 99bis, which decrees that "convictions handed down by the criminal courts of another Member State of the European Union are taken into account under the same conditions as convictions handed down by the Belgian criminal courts".

Concurrent offences

The arguments are based on the concept of "concurrent offences". From the prosecution's point of view, the 2015 attacks in Paris, a 2016 shooting in Rue du Dries in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest and the twin attacks in Brussels form an ideal combination of offences because the three facts were committed to undermine European values.

On the other hand, the defence believes the sentencing in Paris was the maximum that their clients should face and that it is, therefore, unnecessary for the Belgian court to pronounce another sentence. They believe the previous sentencing is sufficient.

If the defence were successful, it would mean Abdeslam and Ayari would serve only 20 years in prison. The prosection considers this insufficient and believes Abdeslam should be sentenced to life. Ayari was not considered a co-perpetrator of the attacks, so he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for participating in the activities of a terrorist group. In his case, the prosecutors considered that the sentence imposed for the shooting in Forest was a sufficient sanction and did not ask for an additional sentence.

Meanwhile, according to the public prosecutor, Mohamed Abrini should receive a life sentence despite his conviction in Paris.

Regarding Osama Krayem, sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in the Paris trial, his lawyer argued in favour of the application of article 65 paragraph 2 but specified that article 344 of the criminal investigation should apply and that the French sentence should be taken into account without preventing the pronouncement of a new sentence in Belgium.

Defence laywer Gisele Stuyck considers the attacks in Paris and Brussels to be two distinct facts, giving rise to different cumulative penalties unless this combination results in a total "excessive" sentence. She said this would be the case if her client received a heavy punishment in the trial in Brussels.



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