Paris attacks suspect in Brussels for shootout trial

BRUSSELS — The prime surviving suspect in the 2015 Daesh (the so-called IS) attacks on Paris appeared to refuse to speak as his trial in Belgium over a shooting that preceded his arrest got under way in Brussels on Monday.

Salah Abdeslam, wearing a white shirt and his hair and beard long in contrast to the cropped, clean-shaven man seen in wanted posters across Europe during his four months on the run, was asked by the judge to rise and give his name. The 28-year-old, in his first public appearance, sat and seemed not to answer.

After a brief adjournment to hear arguments about the representation of victims’ families, the hearing continued with the questioning of Abdeslam’s alleged accomplice in the shooting incident on March 15, 2016, when several French and Belgian police officers were wounded in Brussels.

Abdeslam’s apparent reluctance to engage with the court may prove a disappointment to Parisians who hoped he might end more than two years of silence to give some indication of how and why the attacks which killed 130 people were organized.

His trial in France is not expected until next year. He was not charged over the Daesh suicide bombings in Brussels a week after the shootout and four days after his arrest — though prosecutors say the March 22 attacks, which killed 32 people, were triggered by the cell’s fear that Abdeslam might reveal plans for a new attack in France under interrogation.

Abdeslam arrived under heavy guard from France, where he has been held under 24-hour suicide watch near Paris. He will spend the nights of the coming week of Belgian hearings in a high-security French prison just across the border.

Co-accused Sofien Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian, told the court that he had been with Daesh forces in Syria and that he had been with Abdeslam at the site of the shootout.

Ayari and Abdeslam face up to 40 years in prison for attempted murder in relation to terrorism. When police hunting for the Paris suspects went to an apartment in the southern Brussels borough of Forest, those inside opened fire, wounding several. The two accused are alleged to have fled, leaving a third gunman to hold off police until he was shot dead.

Four days later, Abdeslam and Ayari were arrested in the western Brussels borough of Molenbeek, close to the former’s family home. A French citizen, he was born and raised among the Belgian capital’s large Moroccan immigrant community.

Lawyers for Abdeslam accept that he was in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 at the Bataclan concert hall, near the national stadium and at cafes and restaurants. — Reuters