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Salah Abdeslam trial begins in Brussels
Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect of the 2015 Paris terror attacks, went on trial at a Brussels courthouse on Monday. The trial marks the first time someone accused of being directly involved in the Paris attacks is standing trial.
The trial centres not on the Paris attacks but on a shootout in the Forest district of Brussels in March of 2016, after which Abdeslam, 28, was apprehended and arrested. Sofien Ayari, who is standing trial together with Abdeslam, is alleged to have also participated in that gun fight.
Abdeslam is facing charges of attempted murder of police officers in a terrorist context and possession of illegal weapons, and could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison. He is being defended by lawyer Sven Mary, known for his high-profile clients.
Abdeslam, a Belgium-born French national, was arrested in Molenbeek three days after the shootout in Forest. The gunfire exchange occurred after police made a routine search of an apartment in Rue du Dries. They believed it had been used by a terrorist cell but was unoccupied at the time. Abdesalam was one of three men in the apartment; in hiding since returning to Brussels on 14 November. It is thought that his explosive jacket failed to detonate during the attacks in Paris on 13 November that killed 130 people.
In the Forest apartment, Abdeslam was in the company of Ayari and Algerian Mohamed Belkaïd, one of the presumed coordinators of the Paris attacks. It was Belkaïd who opened fire on the police, injuring two officers, before he was killed during the three-hour siege by a sniper from the Belgian Special Forces. Abdeslam and Ayari escaped by rooftop, abandoning their weapons.
The Brussels trial will attempt to establish if they opened fire on security forces. Ayari told the court on Monday morning that only Belkaïd fired on officers. Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the jihadi group that carried out the Paris attacks, refused to answer questions. He said: “My silence does not make me guilty or a criminal.”
Abdeslam's arrest in March of 2016 is believed to have been the trigger for the subsequent attacks on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station eight days later.
A date for the trial in relation to the Paris attacks has yet to be announced. Abdeslam is awaiting trial in France on charges of murder linked to a terrorist organisation. He is also implicated in the terrorist cell responsible for the attack on Brussels airport and metro system that killed 32 people, plus the attempted attack in a Amsterdam to Paris Thalys train in August 2015.
Abdeslam was transported from a high-security prison in Vendin-le-Vieil, a town to the south of Lille in France, this morning. Unprecedented security measures have been taken in and around the Brussels justice palace, and 400 police offers have been drafted to secure the premises of the sprawling courthouse.