The top surviving suspect of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, stayed mostly silent during a much awaited trial appearance Monday in Brussels. The trial is for a case involving a shootout with Belgian police.
Salah Abdeslam quickly shattered any hopes he might finally talk about his role in the 2015 Paris attacks, the deadliest in recent French history. Bearded, long-haired and clad in a white polo, Abdeslam arrived under tight security at the main courthouse in Brussels.
He first refused to stand or answer questions but then claimed Muslims were unfairly judged and said he would only respond to Allah.
If found guilty, Abdeslam and fellow defendant, Tunisian Soufiane Ayari, face up to 40 years in prison for attempted murder in a shootout with Belgian police. The incident took place in March 2016, four months after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and just before Abdeslam was arrested in the Brussels Molenbeek district where he grew up.
Days later came the attacks in the Belgian capital and airport that killed more than 30 people.
Belgian criminologist Michael Dantinne described Abdeslam as a potential mine of information about the Paris and Brussels attacks.
Speaking to French radio, Dantinne described Abdeslam’s short remarks as propaganda aimed to provoke and to shore up other radicals.
The head of a Paris attacks survivors’ group, Philippe Duperron, said he was not surprised by Abdeslam’s silence.
Duperron, who lost his son Thomas in the 2015 attacks, described a strong emotional charge when Abdeslam walked into the room. He said seeing him for the first time was very difficult.
Security was heavy for the trial’s opening, and both Abdeslam and Ayari declined to be photographed or captured on video. For the rest of this week’s hearings, Abdeslam will be commuting from a high-security prison in northern France, and face the same 24-hour video surveillance as in his maximum security cell at the Fleury Merogis prison near Paris.