The only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that killed 130 people in Paris appeared in public Monday for the first time since his arrest and rejected the legitimacy of a Belgian court by refusing to rise or answer questions at his trial.
Salah Abdeslam is facing attempted murder charges in Brussels from a police shootout four months after the Paris attacks. Abdeslam fled while another man sprayed automatic gunfire and was killed. He was captured a few days later in the same neighborhood where he and many of his Islamic State fighter colleagues grew up.
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 courtroom.
“I do not wish to respond to any questions. I was asked to come. I came,” said Abdeslam, who stayed seated for most of the hearing, flanked by police in balaclavas. “I defend myself by keeping silent.”
Asked why he was refusing to stand, Abdeslam said: “I’m tired, I did not sleep.”
Abdeslam, now wearing a full beard and longer hair than in pictures released before his March 18, 2016 arrest, 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 Monday were oriented toward establishing which of the two also fired on officers during the shootout.
Federal prosecutors in Belgium are seeking 20-year prison sentences for both men.
Abdeslam has previously refused to speak to investigators in France about the attack there that killed 130. Days after his capture, extremists struck in Brussels. In total, 162 people died in the two attacks.
The trial relates to the 2016 shooting in Brussels, some four months after the Paris attacks. Abdeslam and two suspects were hiding in an apartment when police arrived for a routine search. Three officers were wounded in the shootout that followed and one suspect was killed. Abdeslam was captured a few days later in the flashpoint Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek.
“We want to see what elements will be provided in order to have a better understanding of this series of events and terror attacks, in France and in Belgium,” said Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, a member of V-Europe, a victims’ association.
“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.”
Story by The Associated Press