BRUSSELS Ė The only living suspect in the 2015 Paris terror attacks refused to be present in the courtroom on Thursday for the second day of his trial in the Belgian city of Brussels.
The 28-year-old Salah Abdeslam faces 20 years in prison not for his alleged role in the November 2015 bomb and gun attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, but for the climactic shootout in Brussels on March 15, 2016 that led to his arrest after four months on the run and wounded three policemen.
In the first day of the trial for attempted murder and possession of illegal weapons on Monday, Abdeslam told the court ďMy silence does not mean Iím guilty or a criminal, itís my defense.Ē
Abdeslam, a French national of Moroccan origin who grew up in Belgium, managed to escape the shootout but was detained three days later on March 18, 2016 with his alleged 24-year-old accomplice, Sofiane Ayari, who also faces a 20-year sentence.
A third suspect, Mohamed Belkaid, was killed by a police sniper during the standoff, while two other suspects escaped and a week later committed a suicide terror attack on Brussels airport and metro that killed 32 civilians.
Belgian lawyer Sven Mary was to represent Abdeslam in the defendantís absence.
Abdeslamís trial in France in relation to his alleged involvement in the Paris attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State terror organization, is slated to get underway in 2019.
Investigators placed him in one of the vehicles used during the attacks, and claim that Abdeslam was planning a suicide attack in a crowded cafť but that his explosive belt failed to detonate, after which he escaped to Brussels.
All other members of the three groups of assailants, including Abdeslamís brother Ibrahim, either blew themselves up or were killed by police in the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II.