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Only surviving Paris attacks suspect faces justice

Last Updated Feb 5, 2018 6:02 AM EST

BRUSSELS -- The only surviving member of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cell that attacked Paris in November 2015 refused to rise for a Belgian court on Monday during his first appearance in public since his arrest nearly two years ago. Salah Abdeslam is on trial in his hometown of Brussels on charges of attempted murder for a police shootout from which he fled.

The man who covered for his getaway with a spray of automatic gunfire died. Abdeslam's escape was short-lived -- he was captured on March 18, 2016, in the same neighborhood where he and many of his ISIS fighter colleagues grew up.

Abdeslam arrived in the Belgian capital on Monday morning after being transferred from a prison in France. Security was high at the Brussels courthouse, with armed guards and multiple checkpoints leading to the courtroom.

The bearded Abdeslam, flanked by masked guards, did not answer questions as proceedings began in the courtroom.

Abdeslam has previously refused to speak to investigators in France about the attack there that killed 130. Days after his capture, extremists struck in Brussels. In total, 162 people died in the two attacks.

The trial relates to the 2016 shooting in Brussels, some four months after the Paris attacks. Abdeslam and two suspects were hiding in an apartment when police arrived for a routine search. Three officers were wounded in the shootout that followed and one suspect was killed. Abdeslam was captured a few days later in the flashpoint Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek.

Sofien Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian national who was allegedly an accomplice that fled the Molenbeek apartment with Abdeslam, was also facing up to 40 years in prison on the same charge of attempted murder related to terrorism in the Brussels court on Monday.

After an hour long interrogation of Ayari on his and Abdeslam's roles in the March 15 shooutout, it was Abdeslam's turn to speak. He refused to answer questions, saying that was part of his defense strategy. 

He nonetheless took the opportunity to voice his views on the trial, telling the court that it was his right as the accused to remain silent, but repeating that it, "does not mean that I am guilty."

"I would like this trial to be based on tangible scientific evidence, and I would like the trial not to act ostentatiously to satisfy the public opinion," he said, adding that, "Muslims are being treated and judged in the worst ways, there is no presumption of innocence."

"I am not afraid of you," he told the judges, reiterating his "trust in Allah."

As the trial got underway, Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, a member of V-Europe, a victims' association, told the Associated Press that the group was keen 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."

Abdeslam's brother Ibrahim was one of the suicide bombers who attacked Paris in November 2015.