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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Accused Paris bomber declares his contempt for Belgian court 

The 28-year-old has grown long hair and a beard during his nearly two years behind bars

ISIL has claimed responsibility for the carnage carried out at some of the French capital’s most popular nightspots, including a sold-out concert hall, at restaurants and bars and outside France’s national stadium. Thibault Camus / AP
ISIL has claimed responsibility for the carnage carried out at some of the French capital’s most popular nightspots, including a sold-out concert hall, at restaurants and bars and outside France’s national stadium. Thibault Camus / AP

Appearing under high security and the focus of enduring survivor anguish, the last alleged perpetrator of the 2015 terror attacks on the Bataclan theatre in Paris, Salah Abdeslam declared his contempt for justice on Monday.

In front of Belgian judges, the suspect said he would refuse to testify in the four-day hearing said he would put his "trust in Allah" as he refused to answer questions in the case related to an ambush in Brussels months after the French attack.

Lawyers for the suspect accept that he was in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015, when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 at the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France and at cafes and restaurants.

His elder brother, with whom he ran a bar in Brussels, was among those who blew himself up.

Prosecutors believe the surviving attacker ran logistics for the attack, including ferrying fighters from Syria across Europe, and would have met the same fate had his explosive vest not malfunctioned.

The 28-year-old has grown long hair and a beard during his nearly two years behind bars. He was transferred from a jail near the French capital overnight for the trial.

"I am not afraid of you, I am not afraid of your allies," he said. "I put my trust in Allah and that's all. My refusal does not make me a criminal.

A Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent, he argued that the justice system was biased against his faith. "Muslims are judged and treated in the worst of ways, mercilessly. There is no presumption of innocence."

A bereaved relative of one of the victims told of his dismay outside the court.

"Regarding Salah Abdeslam, we hoped at one point that he would change his strategy but actually not only is he not doing that and staying quiet but the statements he is making are clearly malignant, a form of provocation," said Philippe Duperron, the president of a survivors association.

Abdeslam and Sofiane Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian arrested with him, face charges of attempted terrorist murder of police officers and carrying banned weapons.

During the hearing the federal prosecutor told the court that DNA evidence suggested it was Ayari who fired shots that wounded police officers in the ambush but that Abdeslam should be considered a conspirator. Both men accused of attempted murder of officer “in a terrorist context”

The fingerprints of the former bar owner were found in the flat targeted in the Brussels raid and Abdeslam is reported to have disposed of a suicide belt before fleeing.

Three days after the raid, armed officers shot Abdeslam in the leg and captured him and Ayari just yards from Abdeslam's home in Molenbeek, the troubled Brussels neighbourhood.

His arrest ended four months on the run as Europe's most wanted man following the November attacks.

He launched his diatribe after presiding judge Marie-France Keutgen asked why he insisted on attending the trial where he refused to answer questions about the charges against him.

The judge rejected his accusations of bias, insisting he was presumed innocent.

The non-jury trial is the prelude to a later one in France and prosecutors hope the Brussels case will yield clues not only about the Paris attacks but also Brussels bombings on March 22, 2016.

Investigators believe Abdeslam's capture three days after the shootout caused members of the cell to bring forward plans for the attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station in which 32 people were killed.

Ayari, who is cooperating with authorities, told the judge he knew Ibrahim Bakroui, one of the suicide bombers at Brussels airport, adding he visited the apartment where the shootout occurred.

The same cell is believed to have been behind both the Paris and Brussels attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.

But Ayari -- who entered Europe via the Greek islands during the European migration crisis in 2015 -- insisted: "I don't think I am a radical."

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 with an escort of elite French officers with blue lights flashing, while a third group of unmarked vehicles left shortly afterwards.

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