BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, accused European courts of denying Muslims a presumption of innocence as he refused to cooperate on the first day of a trial in Belgium.
“I do not wish to answer any questions,” he told the judge, Marie-France Keutgen, when she asked if he would give evidence in a case in which he is accused of attempted murder of police in Brussels three days before his eventual arrest there.
“I was asked to come. I came,” said Abdeslam, who has been in prison near Paris awaiting trial in France over the attacks that killed 130 people there in November 2015. He was detained in his native Brussels four months later, in March 2016.
“I am accused, so I am here,” he said. “I will remain silent. That is a right which I have and my silence does not make me a criminal or guilty. That is my defense and I am defending myself by remaining silent.”
Sitting flanked by two armed and masked counter-terrorism policemen, his black hair and beard long, he added: “Let them base their case on forensic and tangible evidence, and not swagger about to satisfy public opinion.
“What I notice is that Muslims are judged and treated in the worst kind of ways. They are judged without mercy. There is no presumption of innocence, there’s nothing.”
Citing the Muslim declaration of faith that “there is no god but God” and that Mohamed is his prophet, Abdeslam concluded: “Judge me. Do what you want with me. I put my trust in my Lord.”
Reporting by Julie Carriat; Writing by Alastair Macdonald