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article imageParis suspect Abdeslam refuses to return to Brussels trial

By Matthieu DEMEESTERE (AFP)     Feb 6, 2018 in World

Paris terror attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has refused to return to his trial in Belgium this week over a shootout with police in Brussels that led to his capture, the court said Tuesday.

The fresh show of defiance comes after Abdeslam berated judges for being anti-Muslim, refused to stand and said that he put his "trust in Allah" on the first day of the trial on Monday.

It appears to dash any lingering hopes that Abdeslam might answer questions about the March 15, 2016, gun battle or about his suspected ties to the cell linked to both the 2015 Paris and 2016 Brussels attacks.

"The court has received notice from the defendant to tell us that he will not take part in his trial on Thursday. It's obviously his right not to appear," Luc Hennart, the court's administrative head, told AFP.

"It will not change how the trial unfolds," Hennart added.

One of Abdeslam's defence lawyers, Romain Delcoigne, told AFP: "We duly note it."

Laura Severin, lawyer of Abdeslam's co-defendant Sofiane Ayari, declined to comment when reached by AFP.

Abdeslam had originally requested to attend his trial at the Palais de Justice in Brussels despite being held in France, where he has been in solitary confinement since April 2016.

The Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent is the only surviving suspect in the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, that left 130 people dead.

Abdeslam has refused point-blank to speak to investigators since his arrest in Brussels three days after the gun battle.

- Trial 'not finished' -

Hennart said he still expected Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian arrested with Abdeslam three days after the shootout, to appear when the trial resumes.

Both Abdeslam and Ayari face charges of attempted murder of three police officers who were wounded in a gunfight during a raid on the apartment where the two suspects were hiding out, and on charges relating to banned weapons.

A third jihadist, from Algeria, was killed in the shootout.

In the early hours of Monday Abdeslam was transferred under tight security from a jail near Paris to Brussels for the trial, and then taken to another prison in northern France on Monday night.

He had refused to stand for the court or answer questions about the Belgian case, alleging that Muslims were treated "mercilessly" as he explained why he would not cooperate despite having asked to attend the trial.

"I am not afraid of you, I am not afraid of your allies," said a defiant Abdeslam, who has grown long hair and a beard during his nearly two years behind bars. "I put my trust in Allah and that's all."

Prosecutor Kathleen Grosjean recommended the pair be sentenced to 20 years in prison, what she said is the maximum sentence for an attempt to murder police officers.

Several people had said on Monday night that they had hoped Abdeslam would speak.

"The trial is not yet finished," Maryse Alie, who is representing five of the six police officers who came under fire in March 2016, said late Monday.

"He could still decide to speak, all the more so, I think, as everyone expressed his point of view calmly," Alie added.

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