Friday 23 February 2018

Paris attacks suspect defies Belgian court by refusing to rise or answer questions

Salah Abdeslam is depicted sitting between two police officers during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace (AP)
Salah Abdeslam is depicted sitting between two police officers during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace (AP)

Lori Hinnant

A man accused of being a would-be Islamic State attacker who was once Europe's most wanted fugitive has defied a Belgian court, refusing to rise or answer questions in his first appearance since his arrest.

Salah Abdeslam is facing attempted murder charges in Brussels stemming from a police shootout four months after the Paris attacks which killed 130 people in November 2015.

Abdeslam and an alleged accomplice fled while another man who sprayed automatic gunfire to cover their escape was killed. The pair were captured a few days later.

Abdeslam arrived in the Belgian capital on Monday morning after being transferred from a prison in France. Security was high at the Brussels courthouse, with armed guards and multiple checkpoints leading to the court.

Abdeslam, who stayed seated for the hearing, flanked by police in balaclavas, said: "I do not wish to respond to any questions. I was asked to come. I came. I defend myself by keeping silent."

Asked why he was refusing to stand, Abdeslam said: "I'm tired, I did not sleep."

Abdeslam, now with a full beard and longer hair than in pictures released before his arrest on March 18 2016, refused to answer questions beyond a few formalities and stared straight ahead for much of the hearing.

"Muslims are judged and treated without pity. There is no presumption of innocence," he said.

"I'm not afraid of you. I'm not afraid of your allies. I place my faith in Allah."

He is being tried alongside a second defendant, Sofiane Ayari. The judge's questions on Monday were oriented toward establishing which of the two also fired on officers during the shootout.

In all, a sprawling network of extremists killed 162 people in Paris and Brussels, cities that were home to most of the attackers. Family members of victims and survivors of the attacks had hoped this week's trial would clarify the ties between the attacks and their planning.

Guile Denoix de Saint Marc, a member of V-Europe, a victims' association, said: "This trial is one of the pieces of a global puzzle which will answer some of our questions.

"But at the same time, we expect to be very disappointed and to learn nothing."

Press Association

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