For now, Salah Abdeslam is in court on charges relating to a police shootout in the Belgian capital in March 2016. Prosecutors hoped he would break his silence, but instead he remained defiant in court.
Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, faced trial in Brussels on Monday, where he remained tight-lipped and defiant.
Authorities hoped the Brussels trial would yield clues to the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, as well as to the suicide bombings in Brussels, which claimed 32 lives.
But Abdeslam told presiding judge Marie-France Keutgen he refused to answer any questions. "My silence does not make me a criminal, it's my defense," Abdeslam said. "Muslims are judged and treated in the worst of ways, mercilessly. There is no presumption of innocence."
The hearing was adjourned until Thursday to give Abdeslam's lawyers more time to prepare. Abdeslam is standing trial with fellow suspected cell member Sofiane Ayari. Abdeslam refused to have videos or photos of him taken during the trial.
Representatives of Abdeslam's alleged victims said they were disappointed that he was allowed to use the court room as a soap box despite otherwise treating the court with contempt.
For now, Abdeslam only faces charges relating to a police shootout in the Belgian capital in March 2016 that left three officers wounded and one suspected jihadist dead. He was arrested days later and later escorted to Fleury-Merogis prison near Paris, where he has remained in isolation and under 24-hour video surveillance for nearly two years.
Authorities are leaving nothing to chance ahead of suspected terrorist Salah Abdeslam's trial in Brussels
The trial is scheduled to last four days, during which Abdeslam will be transferred between Belgium and France every night. After Monday's defiant hearing, Abdeslam was immediately transferred back to Vendin-Le-Vieil prison in northern France. If found guilty, Abdeslam and Ayari face up to 40 years in prison for attempted murder in relation to terrorism.
Abdeslam is then slated to stand trial in France next year for his suspected ties to the Paris attackers, one of whom was his brother. He is thought to be the last surviving member of the group.
The Belgian capital was on high alert as Abdeslam was escorted from a prison in Paris to Brussels on Monday morning, with Belgian and French security leaving no scenario to chance.
Who is Salah Abdeslam?
Abdeslam was the most wanted man in Europe for about four months leading up to his arrest in Brussels in March 2016.
The 28-year-old Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent faces trial for alleged links to the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris and is suspected of involvement in the bombings in Brussels the following March.
Abdeslam is thought to have been with the assailants who carried out the attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, bars, restaurants and the national stadium in the French capital. He is suspected of having disposed of his suicide belt before fleeing the scene.
The attacks at the Brussels Zavantem airport and subway station came within days of Abdeslam's arrest. The same cell is alleged to have been behind both attacks.
Abdeslam's arrest is thought to have prompted cell members to bring forward their plans to attacks in Brussels amid fears he would reveal the plans under interrogation, although Belgian officials are yet to level charges to this end.
Arrest in Brussels
In the months after the Paris attack, police traced Abdeslam to a flat in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, where he was holed up with two other suspects, including Tunisian national Ayari.
The third suspect, Algerian Mohamed Belkaid, was shot dead while providing cover fire during a police raid, as Abdeslam and Ayari escaped through a back door.
Abdeslam and Ayari were captured and arrested four days later in the same neighborhood.
dm, aw/msh (AFP, dpa, AP)