Jawad Bendaoud, a 31-year-old drug dealer, rented an apartment in a Paris suburb to Abdelhamid Abaaoud – the senior Islamic State (IS) group militant suspected of coordinating the Paris attacks – and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh.
The presiding judge said Wednesday that the Paris criminal court had found that Bendaoud was not guilty of providing lodging to the attackers nor of helping them hide from police.
Prosecutors had been seeking a four-year prison term for Bendaoud, although more serious terrorism charges had been dropped after they said there was insufficient evidence that he knew what the men had been planning.They say they plan to appeal the verdict.
Bendaoud raised his arms in triumph and patted the police officers guarding him on the shoulder as Judge Isabelle Prevost-Desprez handed down the verdict.
However, the court convicted and sentenced Bendaoud’s two co-defendants: Mohamed Soumah, who was accused of acting as an intermediary, received a five-year prison sentence while Youssef Ait-Boulahcen, who was suspected of being aware of the attackers’ whereabouts and not informing authorities, was sentenced to three years.
'I didn’t know they were terrorists'
While Bendaoud always maintained that he did not know who his tenants were, the French press had dubbed him the "Daesh landlord", referring to the IS group by an Arabic acronym.
As his trial began on January 24, Bendaoud faced charges of criminal conspiracy to commit a violent act. Paris prosecutor François Molins had said that, by renting to the terrorists, one "could not doubt ... that he knowingly took part in aiding a terrorist organisation".
On November 18, 2015, five days after the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead across Paris, anti-terror police killed Abaaoud, Akrouh and Abaaoud's cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen in a raid on the apartment in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.
Just as armed officers were surrounding the apartment, Bendaoud approached journalists. “I found out that these people are holed up in my place. I didn’t know they were terrorists,” he said, looking into the camera. “I was asked to put up two people for three days, and I obliged … I didn’t know them at all.”
His claims made Bendaoud infamous, and he was widely ridiculed in the media. The French public found it ludicrous that, in the midst of a manhunt for the Paris attackers, Bendaoud wasn’t more curious about the three strangers hiding out in his apartment.