Prime Suspect in 2015 Paris Attack Refuses to Answer Questions at Trial

Prime Suspect in 2015 Paris Attack Refuses to Answer Questions at Trial

Monday, 5 February, 2018 - 19:30
A court artist drawing shows Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris, in court during his trial in Brussels, Belgium, February 5, 2018. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The prime suspect in the 2015 Paris ISIS attack stood trial in Belgium on Monday, but refused to answer questions.

“I am accused, so I am here,” Salah Abdeslam told the judge after arriving under heavy police escort from Paris.

“My silence does not make me a criminal or guilty. That is my defense and I am defending myself by remaining silent.”

Abdeslam is on trial for a shooting incident that took place in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. His refusal to cooperate frustrated some at the court whose relatives died in Paris on November 13, 2015.

His lawyer emphasized the narrow scope of this first trial by challenging a court move to extend privileges for interested parties to the trial to a group for victims of ISIS attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016.

Although Abdeslam was already in custody by then and has not been charged over that case, officials believe he was linked to the three bombers. They say the cell brought forward an attack, which killed 32 people, because they feared Abdeslam would reveal their plans under interrogation.

The first day of the trial over the shootout in a southern area of Brussels called Forest heard no evidence directly linked to the Paris attacks. By the time of the incident, Abdeslam had been hiding out in his hometown for four months after fleeing Paris on the night his elder brother blew himself up at a cafe.

Prosecutors who accuse Abdeslam of helping organize the attacks and ferry former fighters from Syria around Europe say he, too, would have died if his suicide vest had not failed to detonate. His lawyers do not dispute Abdeslam was in Paris during the attacks. He then relied on a network of acquaintances to evade police back in Belgium.

They finally stumbled across him when, with French officers, they went to inspect a suspect apartment in Forest. They came under a hail of gunfire which wounded four of them.

After a three-hour siege ended with marksmen killing a 35-year-old Algerian called Mohamed Belkaid, police found an arms cache and, crucially, Abdeslam’s DNA.

That finally led to his arrest three days later at another apartment, in the district of Molenbeek close to his family home. Also detained was his current co-accused, Sofien Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian.

Prosecutors say Abdeslam and Ayari fled the Forest flat while Belkaid held off police. Ayari’s defense on Monday was that he and Abdeslam did not open fire before fleeing. The prosecutor, however, sought 20 years in prison for both, saying they took part in a joint operation to ambush the officers.

The trial was adjourned until Thursday.

The plans for transferring Abdeslam from Fleury-Merogis prison in the Parisian suburbs, and then back to a prison just across the border in northern France every night, were shrouded in secrecy.

Two separate convoys left Fleury-Merogis in the middle of the night while a third group of unmarked vehicles set off shortly afterwards.

He is to be transferred back to France at the end of every day that he attends the trial.

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