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Sole surviving suspect in 2015 Paris attacks goes on trial

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Terror suspect Salah Abdeslam is guarded by masked police officers in court during his trial in Brussels, Belgium, on February 5, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

The sole surviving suspected member of a group that carried out deadly terrorist attacks in the French capital of Paris in 2015 has gone on trial at a court in Belgium over charges related to a shootout with police prior to his arrest.

Salah Abdeslam, 28, is accused of attempted murder of police officers during the shootout that led to his capture in March 2016, four months after the Paris attacks.

He entered the “Palais de Justice” courthouse in Brussels amid tight security on Monday. Up to 200 police officers will be guarding the courthouse for the trial, which is expected to last four days.

Abdeslam, a French citizen born to Moroccan parents in Brussels, was taken from a prison outside Paris in the early hours of Monday and taken by a police convoy to appear in the trial. A team of his lawyers also arrived at the court.

The man and his suspected accomplice, Sofian Ayariface, will be on trial on charges of possessing illegal weapons and the attempted murder of police officers in a terrorist context.

Chairwoman of the court Marie-France Keutgen (C) sits with members of the court during the opening of Salah Abdeslam’s trial, in Brussels, February 5, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The charges Abdeslam currently faces are not related to the Paris attacks, which were carried out by gunmen and bombers on a Paris concert hall, stadium, restaurants, and bars, killing a total of 130 people on November 13, 2015.

Following the attacks, Abdeslam became Europe’s most wanted man and was eventually found hiding in a flat in his home district of Molenbeek in Brussels. Along with Ayariface, Abdeslam fought a gun battle with officers who raided the flat.

If convicted, they face up to 40 years in prison.

French prosecutors say Abdeslam played a key role in the Paris attacks, but he has so far refused to cooperate with investigators. He is not expected to go on trial in France until 2020 at the earliest.

He will be taken back to France every night during the four-day trial but will be held at a prison just across the border with Brussels.

At the Monday court session, he said he would continue to remain uncooperative.

“My silence does not make me a criminal, it’s my defense,” he said at the court.

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