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What to remember from Salah Abdeslam’s trial in Belgium

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – Benoit PEYRUCQ – | A sketch of the hearing shows Salah Abdeslam during his trial at the Brussels Court House on 7 February 2018

Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the jihadist commandos who attacked Paris in November 2015, appeared for the first time this week in a high-security trial in Brussels.

Twenty years in prison were required against him and his co-founder Sofiane Ayari, in a case involving only a shootings with police officers in Brussels in March 2016, which had precipitated the end of the run of the man then the most sought after. Europe.

The Belgian court will not make its decision until April, the 29th at the latest, but the two days of hearing have already brought several lessons.

-How did the trial take place?

Armed soldiers on duty, helicopter spinning in the sky, armored vehicles: an extraordinary security had been set up in and around the courthouse.

Ⓒ AFP – JOHN THYS – | Belgian soldiers stand guard at the entrance to the Brussels Courthouse on 8 February 2018

The media interest was enormous, with nearly 300 accredited journalists in place early in the morning. A figure much higher than the capacity of the small room of the criminal court where appeared the French of Moroccan origin and his coprévenu, both surrounded permanently by two masked Belgian policemen not leaving the eyes of them.

The excitement of the first day, however, fell when Abdeslam, imprisoned in the north of France during the trial, refused to return to Brussels. This choice, together with Ayari’s evasive answers, shortened the two-day trial – Monday and Thursday – instead of the four originally scheduled.

-What did you learn about Salah Abdeslam?

This was one of the main issues of this trial. Would Abdeslam speak up or persist in keeping quiet? The defendant finally spoke but very briefly, and only to challenge the legitimacy of the court.

Ⓒ POOL/AFP – Didier LEBRUN – | Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer, Sven Mary, at the Brussels Court House, 8 February 2018

“I’m not afraid of you, I’m not afraid of your allies, your associates, I place my trust in Allah and that’s all,” he said, defying, in his unique intervention Monday at the hearing, where he appeared mid-length hair combed back, thick beard and wearing a gray jacket on a white polo shirt.

His lawyer, Sven Mary, wanted to question the image of determined jihadist returned by his client. Whether during the shooting in Brussels, after the attacks in Paris or at the time of his arrest on March 18, 2016, “he does not seek confrontation,” he said.

One of the lawyers of the police, Mr. Tom Bauwens, made fun of him on the “opportunism” of the defendant, who “the morning makes the jihad, and the afternoon does nothing but flee”, alludes to his renunciation to appear.

-Who is his co-accused, Sofiane Ayari?

The 24-year-old Tunisian traveled to Syria “late 2014” to join the Islamic State (IS) organization, he said, to help the local population. He then came to Europe in September 2015, taking advantage of the flow of migrants, before being recovered in Germany by Salah Abdeslam, who took him to Belgium with two other jihadists.

According to a police note, he wanted to “die as a martyr”, which he defends, explaining that his only goal was to return to Syria.

Ⓒ POOL/AFP – FRANCOIS LENOIR – | The alleged accomplice of Salah Abdeslam, Sofiane Ayari, escorted by Belgian police officers arriving at the Brussels Court House on 8 February 2018

His DNA was found in several hideouts of the jihadist cell, some of which were used to prepare the attacks in Paris. France is also calling on Belgium to indict him.

On November 13, 2015, the day of these attacks, he was in Amsterdam with an accomplice, Osama Krayem. The investigators suspect him of wanting to commit or planning a bomb attack at Schiphol airport, but he declined to testify about these facts during the trial.

-What links with the attacks in Paris and Brussels?

The investigators are convinced that the fortuitous discovery of the hideout of Abdeslam, 60 rue du Dries, in the district of Forest, then his arrest, precipitated the attacks of March 22, 2016, a few days later, in the airport and the Brussels metro (32 dead).

“The shooting of the rue du Dries is part of a continuum between November 13 and March 22”, summarizes Me Guillaume Lys, who defends victims of the Brussels attacks.

The investigation of this shooting, then the trial, shed more light on the existence of one and the same French-Belgian cell linked to the Islamic State group.

The Forest apartment, for example, was rented by one of the suicide bombers in Brussels, and besides Abdeslam and Ayari, it served as a hideout for Mohamed Belkaïd, who was shot in the hand during the shooting.

This Algerian 35 years had been according to the investigators the recipient of an SMS sent by the attackers of November 13 the evening of the attacks: “We left we begin”.

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