(BRUSSELS) — The last surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks refused to show up in court in Brussels today during a trial over the shootout that led to his capture.
Salah Abdeslam, a French national, is being held across the border from Belgium in France, and his absence was expected after he said earlier this week he would not attend and that he preferred to remain in his cell. The 28-year-old is charged with attempted murder of police officers after a shootout with officers in a Brussels neighborhood called Forest three days before his arrest in March 2016 near his parents’ home.
Security was tight around the central Brussels courthouse today. Two hundred police officers, as well as sniffer dogs trained to detect explosives, secured the Palace of Justice, according to the prosecutor’s office. Two metal detectors were installed for any visitors entering the colossal marble building.
His alleged accomplice Sofiane Ayari, 24, is also on trial and was present.
The prosecutor, Kathleen Grosjean, called for the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for both detainees, saying there was no doubt of Abdeslam and Ayari’s intentions.
“They were ready to kill,” she told the court.
One of Ayari’s lawyers said during today’s hearing that the court’s decision should focus only on the shootout sequence in Forest and avoid considering the 2015 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.
Meanwhile, Abdeslam’s lawyer, Sven Mary, announced to the court that he would not represent Abdeslam in the future. Mary confirmed to the press that he did not try to persuade his client to attend his trial.
The next hearing is set for March 29 and will deal with a procedural matter deciding whether the victims of the Paris attacks could join the plaintiffs.
Today, a sister of one of the Paris victims, known as Sophie S., called Abdeslam a “coward” for not leaving his cell.
“I am not surprised,” she said. “He is a coward. I want him to know we are not stupid and we don’t accept his lies. His absence proves he is a weak person and that he has no regret.”
Abdeslam attended the first day of his trial on Monday but refused to answer questions. He only told the tribunal that he did not want “to satisfy public opinion” and that “silence is his defense.” He also insisted silence did not make him a criminal.
Abdeslam, Ayari, Mohamed Belkaid — who died during the confrontation in Forest with the police — and the El Bakraoui brothers — accused of later carrying out attacks at a Belgian airport and subway station; both have since died — shared an apartment in Forest with an ISIS flag on the wall.
Ayari, who allegedly fought in Syria for ISIS, said he never used either of the two weapons at the Rue Dries apartment though his DNA was allegedly found on one of the guns. He allegedly escaped out of a window with Abdeslam before the shootout.
Mary said in court that Abdeslam was not responsible for opening fire or initiating the shooting, instead blaming Belkaid, who is dead.
A French trial on the 2015 Paris attacks is expected to take place next year, an association representing the attack victims told ABC News.
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