The last surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, refused to stand or answer judges' questions as his trial over a shootout that led to his capture opened today in Brussels.
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Salah Abdeslam, wearing a white shirt and sporting long hair with a beard, refused to stand when requested, according to journalists in the courtroom. "I do not wish to answer any questions," he said when asked to confirm his identity, they reported.
“So why did you decide to come to this trial?” a judge asked. “I’ve been asked to come here so I did," Abdeslam replied. "There is a trial, I am the main actor of this trial, I am being accused. So I am here."
The alleged terrorist then declared: “My silence does not make me a criminal or guilty. I am defending myself by remaining silent. Judge me. Do as you want with me. I put my trust in my Lord. I am not afraid of you, your allies or your associates. I trust Allah. That’s all I have to say.”
Olivier Laplaud, a spokesperson for the French organization “Life for Paris," which helps support victims of the November 2015 attacks in Paris, said on French TV network BFM that Abdeslam’s remarks "were pure provocation."
Two-hundred members of the Belgian security forces were deployed in and around the court building in Brussels today, according to local authorities in the Belgian capital.
Abdeslam, a 28-year-old French citizen of Moroccan origin, arrived in Brussels from France overnight under heavy guard. He had been held under tight security in the Fleury-Mérogis prison outside Paris.
Between this week's hearings in Brussels, he will spend his nights in a high-security French prison just across the border, according to local authorities in northern France.
Abdeslam has refused to speak to investigators since his March 2016 arrest.
The trial in Brussels related to a gun fight on March 15, 2016. Abdeslam – Europe’s most wanted man at the time - and his alleged accomplice, Sofian Ayari, were allegedly hiding in an apartment in the Brussels district of Forest when it was raided by French and Belgian police in a joint operation, leading to a shootout.
Abdeslam and Ayari allegedly escaped but were finally arrested three days later in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, the culmination of a four-month manhunt.
Abdeslam and Ayari face charges of "attempting to murder several police officers in a terrorist context" and "carrying prohibited weapons in a terrorist context" and could be sentenced to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Abdeslam’s lawyer was granted additional time before entering a plea, so the trial will resume on Thursday, according to reporters in the courtroom. The trial is expected to conclude Thursday or Friday, they said.
Abdeslam’s trial in France regarding his role in the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, which killed 130 people, is not expected to start until 2019.