Verdict for Paris suspect Abdeslam in Belgian trial

BrusselsBelgium – A Belgian court will give its verdict Monday on Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris Islamist attacks, over a bloody 2016 shootout with police in Brussels that led to his capture.

Prosecutors asked at the trial in February for Abdeslam and his co-defendant Sofiane Ayari to be jailed for up to 20 years if found guilty on charges of terrorist-related attempted murder and possession of banned weapons.

Neither Abdeslam, who is being held in jail in France pending a separate trial over the 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 people died, nor Ayari is expected to be in court in Brussels for the verdict, a court spokesman told AFP.

Belgian security forces will mount a major operation around the imposing Palace of Justice building in Brussels for the verdict, which judges are due to start reading out at 0645 GMT.

Abdeslam, 28, a Belgian-born French national, was transported to the court from France for the first day of the trial amid tight security including a helicopter escort, while Tunisian national Ayari, 24, is in jail in Belgium.

On the first day of the trial, Abdeslam proclaimed that he would only put his “trust in Allah” and accused the court of being biased against Muslims.

He then refused to attend the rest of the proceedings.

Three police officers were wounded in the gun battle after police acting on a tip-off over the Paris attacks raided a flat in the Forest area of Brussels on March 15, 2016.

Abdeslam was arrested three days later in the largely immigrant Molenbeek area of the Belgian capital, near his family home.

– ‘Mocking’ trial –

On March 22 suicide bombers from a cell linked to the Paris attacks killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more at Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital.

Investigators say Abedeslam’s arrest spurred the Brussels bombers to bring forward the attacks, which had originally been planned for a later date, as they feared they could be captured.

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.

After Abdeslam refused to return to court for the trial in February, his lawyer Sven Mary sought the case’s dismissal on a technicality over how the judges were named to investigate the gun battle, and said media leaks had denied him a fair trial.

But lawyers for police wounded in the gun battle accused Abdeslam of “mocking” the trial.

One of the injured police officers was still suffering from after-effects including brain lesions, epileptic fits and vision and balance problems.

An organisation representing victims of the Brussels attacks and their families has asked for symbolic damages of one euro from the trial.

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, which were claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Abdeslam’s brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.

by Danny Kemp