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‘I am not afraid of you’

The last surviving suspect of the Paris terror attacks has told a court he is “not afraid” as he refused to speak at the first day of his trial.

Saleh Abdeslam is accused of driving three of the suicide bombers to the Stade de France as part of the November 2015 attacks, and is understood to have intended to carry out an attack himself before changing his mind.

Salah Abdeslam
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Abdeslam is standing trial in Brussels charged with attempted murder

He is standing trial in Brussels’ Palais de Justice charged with attempted murder in a terrorist context following a shootout with police that led to his capture four months later in March 2016.

He fled the gun battle, and a man who covered for his getaway was killed with a spray of automatic gunfire. Abdeslam’s escape was short-lived as he was captured days later in the neighbourhood where he grew up.

The suspects arrive from France under high security
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The suspects arrive from France under high security

In court, he refused to confirm his name, to stand, or to answer questions.

He said: “Judge me, do what you want with me, it’s in my Lord that I place my trust.

“I am not afraid of you, I am not afraid of your allies. I put my trust in Allah and that’s all, I have nothing else to add.”

Police officers check people as they pass a security control check at the Brussels court
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Police officers check people as they pass a security control check at the Brussels court

He has also told the court: “My silence does not make me a criminal, it’s my defence.

“Muslims are judged and treated in the worst of ways, mercilessly. There is no presumption of innocence.

“I declare that there is no god but Allah, Mohammed is his his servant and his messenger.”

When he was asked why he declined to stand, the bearded defendant said: “I’m tired, I did not sleep.”

Prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam (L) sits beside his alleged accomplice Sofiane Ayari (R) as they are surrounded by Belgian special police officers
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Salah Abdeslam (L) sits beside his alleged accomplice Sofiane Ayari (R) as they are surrounded by police

After he refused to answer questions, the judge suspended proceedings to allow him to speak with his lawyer, Sven Mary.

Abdeslam stands trial alongside Sofiane Ayari in relation to the shootout. They face 40 years in prison if convicted.

Abdeslam has refused to answer questions from investigators since his capture in 2016. He has spent 20 months in isolation with 24-hour video surveillance since he was transferred to the French prison.

He has insisted on being at the trial, despite his refusal to answer questions, and will be brought in from France each day over the four days his trial is expected to last.

Chairwoman of the court Marie-France Keutgen speaks during the opening of the first day of the trial of Abdeslam
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Chairwoman of the court Marie-France Keutgen speaks during the opening of the first day of the trial of Abdeslam

Abdeslam’s trial is a prelude to one in France expected to take place next year, where prosecutors hope to find out more about the attacks which killed 162 people in Paris and in Brussels.

Ayari also spoke during the proceedings, saying he did not participate in IS attacks in Europe.

He said: “I had no other choice. I could not return to Tunisia where I risked prison.

Belgian lawyers representing Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam Sven Mary (R) and Romain Delcoigne speak together
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Belgian lawyers representing Abdeslam – Sven Mary (R) and Romain Delcoigne

“It’s not for me to say if these actions are legitimate or illegitimate, it’s for those who committed these acts.

“I have nothing more to add.”

Guillame Denoix de Saint Marc, a member of the victims’ association V-Europe, said: “We want to see what elements will be provided in order to have a better understanding of this series of events and terror attacks, in France and in Belgium.

“This trial is one of the pieces of a global puzzle which will answer some of our questions. But at the same time, we expect to be very disappointed and to learn nothing.”

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