Salah Abdeslam pleads not guilty in Brussels terror attack trial
Wednesday saw the start of the questioning of the defendants in the trial over the 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks. Salah Abdeslam, who is suspected of having played a role in organising the attacks, denies all charges.
Since December 2022, 10 defendants have been on trial in Belgium for the terrorist attacks that took place in Brussels on 22 March 2016, leaving 32 people dead and around 340 injured. In recent weeks, the court has heard testimony from victims and relatives. Presiding judge Laurence Massart began questioning the defendants on Wednesday morning.
"It is a great injustice that I am sitting here in the dock"
Abdeslam, who was in prison at the time of the Brussels attacks but is believed to have played a role in organising them, was questioned on Wednesday afternoon. As with the other defendants, the judge asked Abdeslam if he confessed to his involvement in the acts that led to the attacks on Maelbeek metro station and Brussels Airport. Abdeslam denied this twice and said he had not taken part in the activities of any terrorist group.
Abdeslam was arrested shortly before the 2016 Brussels attacks as part of an investigation into the November 2015 attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed. On 15 March 2016, a week before the Brussels bombings, a house search on Driesstraat in the Brussels municipality of Forest led to a shootout between police and three suspects. Abdeslam escaped but was captured three days later.
The Brussels-born Frenchman was handed over to French authorities for his involvement in the Paris attacks. His trial in France in 2022 resulted in a life sentence. While on trial in France, he was sentenced in Belgium to 20 years in prison for the Forest shooting.
During his questioning on Wednesday, he denounced the Forest shooting trial. "The Driesstraat trial should never have taken place, it was a continuation of the trial for the attacks of 13 November 2015. Someone who commits a robbery and then gets caught doesn't get two trials, does he? After Paris, I was on the run in Forest. They wrongly gave me two trials. The police came, I escaped and I got 20 years. That is excessive. I didn't shoot anyone."
Abdeslam considers it equally unfair that he is now on trial for the Brussels attacks. "It is a great injustice that I am sitting here in the dock," he said on Wednesday. "According to the prosecution, the perpetrators of the attacks of 22 March 2016 are in the dock, but this is not the case. I have been in prison since 18 March 2016 and the plans were made the day after my arrest."
According to him, he paid the price for what others did in Paris. He did not appeal the Paris sentence because he did not want to go through the prison regime again, adding that he was exhausted after 10 months on trial. "They didn't want justice, they wanted examples. That is what happened there. We have yet to see what will happen here."
Defendant Salah Abdeslam during a session of the 2016 Brussels terror attacks trial, 5 April 2023, Brussels, Belgium © BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ
© VIDEO HANDOUT AFPTV/POOL AGENCY