BRUSSELS: Lawyers for police officers hurt in a shootout with Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam accused him of scorning Belgian justice after he refused to appear at his trial when it resumed yesterday. Abdeslam, 28, accused judges of being anti-Muslim, refused to answer questions, and proclaimed he put his “trust in Allah” on the first day of the high-security trial on Monday.
The Belgian-born Frenchman of Moroccan descent then refused to attend Thursday’s resumption of the hearing into the March 2016 gunbattle in Brussels in which three police were wounded, and was represented instead by his lawyer.
“His attitude and his opportunism tire me,” Tom Bauwens, a lawyer for two of the elite police officers involved in the raid in the Forest district of Brussels, told the courtroom. “He will mock our rule of law, he will mock everybody. He will not recognize your court, he will not recognize your laws,” he said.
“But he will nevertheless ask for a lawyer to plead his case before you,” Bauwens added.
Abdeslam-who was transferred to France following his arrest-was brought to Brussels from a jail near Paris under heavy security for the trial on Monday.
‘Appeal for clemency’
His Belgian lawyer, Sven Mary, told the court yesterday that he would to continue to represent Abdeslam after his client refused to attend the second day of the trial. The court did not sit on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Yes, Madame”, Mary replied when asked by the chief judge, Marie-France Keutgen, if he still wished to defend his client. Abdeslam’s co-defendant Sofiane Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian, appeared alone in the court yesterday. Prosecutors have asked for the maximum available 20-year jail sentences for both Abdeslam and Ayari, who face terrorist-related charges of attempted murder and possession of banned weapons over the shootout.
“On the sentence, we appeal for the court’s clemency,” Ayari’s lawyer Laura Severin said. The court may take several weeks to deliberate before handing down a verdict. Prosecutors accuse both Abdeslam and Ayari of attempting to kill police, though they believe there were only two weapons, one in Ayari’s hands and the other with in Mohamed Belkaid, an Algerian who died in the shootout.
One of the three police officers injured in the battle, described only as agent nine, is still suffering the after-effects, his lawyer said. “He is suffering so much from his brain lesions that he no longer knows what to do,” Bauwens told the court.
“He has epileptic fits. He has loss of vision and balance. It’s the reality. Agent number nine did his work and all he asks for is for you the court to continue the work he started,” he said.
Silence not ‘criminal’
Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect from the Islamic State cell behind the November 2015 Paris attacks, had said on Monday that his decision to refuse to answer questions was his method of defense, and that “silence does not make me a criminal.” But Belgian media quoted legal experts questioning how best to defend a client who had also called the court’s judges illegitimate and alleged that all Muslims were mistreated by the justice system.
Mary initially represented Abdeslam after his arrest in Brussels, which happened three days after the gun battle, but then dropped the former bar owner because of his attitude.
However Mary then took Abdeslam back on as a client ahead of the trial and managed to delay the hearings from December last year to have more time to prepare.
Prosecutors have said that DNA links Abdeslam to the apartment in the Forest district of Brussels where the shooting took place, but not to the weapons themselves that were used.
The Belgian trial is a prelude to a bigger one that Abdeslam will face in France at a later date over the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, in which 130 people were killed. Abdeslam’s brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers. Abdeslam’s DNA or fingerprints were allegedly found at five sites in Belgium used by the cell behind both the Paris and Brussels attacks. – AFP