BRUSSELS – The sole survivor of an alleged terror group responsible for the November 2015 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead went on trial in the Belgian capital on Monday on charges related to a police shootout just before his capture.
Salah Abdeslam, 28, was brought from prison in France under tight security and arrived at the Brussels court alongside his alleged accomplice Sofian Ayari, 24, to face charges of attempted murder and possession of illegal weapons in relation to a shootout with police that took place as security forces encircled an apartment which he had used as a hideout four months after the attacks in Paris.
“I do not wish to answer questions,” said Abdeslam, opting to exercise his right to silence in front of the judges. “If you accuse me, here I am. My silence does not mean I’m guilty or a criminal, it’s my defense.”
Three officers were injured in the raid in the Brussels neighborhood of Forest, and Abdeslam, a French national of Moroccan origin who grew up in Belgium, managed to escape the siege but was detained three days later on March 18, 2016 in the neighborhood of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean.
A third suspect, Mohamed Belkaid, was killed by a police sniper during the stand-off, while two other suspects escaped and a week later committed a suicide terror attack on Brussels airport and metro that killed 32 civilians
Abdeslam was the only survivor of the Islamic State terror organization-claimed attacks on Paris, in which all other members of the three groups of assailants, including his brother Ibrahim, either committed suicide with explosive belts or were killed by police.
It was the deadliest attack on France since World War II and Abdeslam is to face separate charges in France for his alleged role in the terror assault.
Since his arrest, the suspect has spent the majority of his time in solitary confinement in the Fleury-Mergy high-security prison to the south of Paris, where he has been placed under 24-hour vigilance.
Abdeslam will be transferred to the Vendin-le-Vieil prison, located across the border near the French city of Lille, each night during his trial in Belgium.