Terror suspect Salah Abdeslam refuses to attend trial over police mistreatment
At the start of Thursday's hearing in the ongoing 2016 Brussels attacks trial, defendant Salah Abdeslam said he will remain in his cell until the verdict falls over ongoing mistreatment issues. On Wednesday, Abdeslam indicated that a police officer had beaten him.
For some time now, issues around the defendants' detention and transfer conditions have been overshadowing the Belgian terror trial, which launched in December and is expected to last up to nine months. Ten defendants are standing trial for the 2016 Brussels terror attacks in which 32 people were killed and around 340 injured.
On Thursday, the Court's Presiding Judge asked each defendant if they had been strip-searched and made to squat in the process before being transferred to Court that morning. That opening question has become customary at the defence's request, as systematic strip searches were recently banned by a judge but continue to persist.
Abdeslam responded that he has been raising the issue of police mistreatment during his transfer to Court since the beginning of the trial, and is "regrettably not being heard." "I want to attend the trial, but it is impossible in these circumstances. I will stay in my cell until the verdict falls," said Abdeslam.
Abdeslam is a key suspect in the terror trial, despite already being in prison on the day of the 2016 attacks. He is believed to have played a role in organising the Brussels attacks and was sentenced to life in prison in France in 2022 for his role in the 2015 Paris attacks.
On Wednesday, Abdeslam reported that a police officer had punched him in the face. No injuries were visible, but the defendant and his lawyer indicated that he did have a wound on his inner lips. Abdeslam also reported pain in his upper body. A law doctor assessed the injuries Wednesday afternoon, but his findings have not yet been released. The medical report will be turned over to the Brussels prosecutor's office.
Belgian Federal Prosecutor Paule Somers asked Abdeslam if there had been a new incident Thursday morning, but that proved not to be the case. Along with Abdeslam, defendants Mohamed Abrini, Sofien Ayari and Osama Krayem left the Courtroom.
Defendant Salah Abdeslam during the first day of the 2016 Brussels attacks trial, Monday 5 December 2022 in Brussels, Belgium © BELGA PHOTO POOL BENOIT DOPPAGNE