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Paris attacks suspect won't stand, answer questions at shootout trial

by Associated Press /  / Updated 

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BRUSSELS — The only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that attacked Paris in November 2015 refused to rise for a Belgian court on Monday, or answer questions about his actions, during his first appearance in public since his arrest nearly two years ago.

Salah Abdeslam is on trial in his hometown of Brussels on charges of attempted murder for a police shootout from which he fled. The man who covered for his getaway with a spray of automatic gunfire died. Abdeslam's escape was short-lived — he was captured on March 18, 2016, in the same neighborhood where he and many of his Islamic State fighter colleagues grew up.

Image: Salah Abdeslam trial
In this courtroom sketch, Salah Abdeslam, right, and Soufiane Ayari, left, appear in court on Monday.Petra Urban / AP

Abdeslam arrived in the Belgian capital on Monday morning after being transferred from a prison in France. Security was high at the Brussels courthouse, with armed guards and multiple checkpoints leading to the courtroom.

He is being tried alongside a second defendant, Sofiane Ayari, in relation to the shootout. The judge's questions Monday were oriented toward establishing which of the two had also fired on officers.

Asked why he was refusing to stand, Abdeslam said: "I'm tired, I did not sleep."

Abdeslam, now wearing a full beard and longer hair than in pictures released before he was arrested, was flanked by masked guards and refused to answer questions beyond a few formalities.

"I do not wish to respond to any questions. I was asked to come. I came," he said. "I defend myself by keeping silent."

"Muslims are judged and treated without pity, there is no presumption of innocence," said Abdeslam, who stared straight ahead for much of the hearing. "I'm not afraid of you, I'm not afraid of your allies. I place my faith in Allah."

Abdeslam has previously refused to speak to investigators in France about the attack there that killed 130. Days after his capture, extremists struck in Brussels. In total, 162 people died in the two attacks.

The trial relates to the 2016 shooting in Brussels, some four months after the Paris attacks. Abdeslam and two suspects were hiding in an apartment when police arrived for a routine search. Three officers were wounded in the shootout that followed and one suspect was killed. Abdeslam was captured a few days later in the flashpoint Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek.

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