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Paris suspect Abdeslam to get Belgian trial verdict in April

The Brussels court announced that it will deliver a verdict in the trial of Salah Abdeslam on April 23
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – Belgian judges will hand down their verdict in April in the trial of Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the Paris Islamist attacks, over a shootout in Brussels that led to his capture.

The court in Brussels announced that it will deliver the judgement on April 23, two months after Abdeslam stood trial on charges of the attempted murder of police officers.

He is being held in a prison near Paris but was transported to the court for part of the hearing in February, during which he proclaimed he would only put his “trust in Allah”.

The court made the announcement after hearing an application from Belgian terror victims to be named as civil parties in the case against Abdeslam over the March 2016 gun battle.

“The verdict will be handed down on April 23,” presiding judge Marie-France Keutgen told the Brussels court.

Islamist gunman Radouane Lakdim, who shot dead four people last week in southern France, including a policeman killed after taking the place of a hostage, said during the siege he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State group and demanded the release of Abdeslam.

Prosecutors have recommended a maximum of 20 years in prison for Abdeslam, 28, and Soufiane Ayari, his 24-year-old co-defendant.

The pair are being tried on terrorist-related charges of attempted murder and possession of banned weapons over the shootout on March 15, 2016 in which three police officers were wounded.

Seven days later, suicide bombers from a cell linked to the November 2015 Paris attacks killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more at Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital. 

Neither defendant appeared in court on Thursday.

– Symbolic damages –

Abdeslam accused the court of being anti-Muslim in a statement on the first day of the trial, before refusing to come to court for the rest of the hearings.

His lawyer Sven Mary sought the case’s dismissal over a technicality over how the judges were named to investigate the gun battle.

The Belgian trial is a prelude to a bigger one that Abdeslam will face in France at a later date over the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks claimed by IS, in which 130 people were killed. 

Abdeslam’s brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.

Investigators say the same cell carried out the Brussels attacks, alleging the arrest of Abdeslam precipitated the suicide bombings in the Belgian capital.

The Brussels court held a hearing Thursday into a request from V-Europe, a group representing Belgian victims from the Brussels bombings and other attacks, to be considered a civil party in the police shootout.

V-Europe, which also works with groups representing the Paris attacks victims, said the shootout in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest “is a part of a continuum between the 13 November and 22 March” as the same cell was involved in both.

The group is asking for a symbolic one euro in damages, its lawyer Guillaume Lys told the court.

“The attitude of the defendants, their behaviour during the shootout, precipitated what happened on March 22, 2016,” Lys said. “We must be able to recognise the damage suffered by the victims that I represent because it helps in their recovery.”

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