Belgian Trial of Paris Attack Suspect Abdeslam Set for February

Paris attack suspect Salah Abdelslam
Paris attack suspect Salah Abdelslam

A Belgian court on Monday delayed until February the trial of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam over a shootout in Brussels that led to his capture.

Mr. Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks which left 130 people dead, had been due to face trial in the Belgian capital this week.

But following an application last week by Mr. Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary, the court on Monday ruled the trial would start on Monday February 5 and run until the Friday of that week, with Wednesday as a rest day.

Mr. Abdeslam and Sofian Ayari, also implicated in the shootout, face jail sentences of up to 40 years on charges of “attempting to murder several police officers in a terrorist context” and “carrying prohibited weapons in a terrorist context.”

Both men were captured in Brussels days after the March 15, 2016 shootout, ending a four-month manhunt for Mr. Abdeslam for his alleged role in the Paris attacks.

“On February 9 the court will announce the date when the judgement will be given… it is expected to take a month,” the court’s presiding judge Luc Hennart told reporters.

Mr. Mary, who initially took the case when Mr. Abdeslam was first arrested but dropped it in October, criticising his client’s attitude, asked for the trial to be delayed until March to give him time to review the files, but the court refused.

Lawyer Maryse Alie, representing the police officers present at the shootout, told AFP the delay to February was “quite justified.”

The 28-year-old Mr. Abdeslam is linked to the same cell that carried out suicide bombings in Brussels a week after the gunbattle. Thirty-two people were killed at Brussels airport and a metro station near the E.U.’s headquarters.

Investigators have said the bombers were spurred into action by his arrest.

During the gunbattle in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest, several police officers were wounded and an alleged Mr. Abdeslam accomplice was killed.

Mr. Abdeslam, born in Brussels of Moroccan origin, has spent nearly 20 months in isolation, under 24-hour video surveillance, at a prison in the Paris region since his transfer to France in April last year.

He has refused to cooperate with investigators and his offer to appear at the Brussels trial came as a surprise.

The hearings are a highly-anticipated chance to see if he has changed his mind about keeping silent.