Lawyer for Paris attacks suspect seeks case dismissal over language error
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A Belgian court must acquit Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam over a shootout with police because of a legal language mix-up between Dutch and French, his defence lawyer said Thursday.
Abdeslam, 28, refused to come to court in Brussels on Thursday, after accusing judges on the first day of the trial on Monday of being anti-Muslim and proclaiming he would only put his "trust in Allah".
In Abdeslam's absence, lawyer Sven Mary sought the case's dismissal over a technicality in how the judges were named to investigate the gunbattle in Brussels in March 2016, in which three police offers were wounded.
"It's a very Belgian story," said Mary, explaining that the top counter-terror judge should have issued the document naming the judges in Dutch, and not in French, because he serves in a Dutch-speaking court in Brussels.
The "whole case" against Abdeslam and his Tunisian co-defendant, Sofiane Ayari, "must be thrown out," Mary said.
Belgium's deep divisions between Dutch and French-speakers were often cited as a factor in the country's widely criticised investigations into the cell behind attacks in 2015 in Paris and 2016 in Brussels.
Mary also said the case has been "polluted" by media leaks in France and Belgium that deny his client a fair trial, and that there was "no element that would allow you to convict Abdeslam of a terrorist offence."
'Mock the rule of law'
Prosecutors have asked for the maximum available 20-year jail term for both Abdeslam and Ayari, who face terrorist-related charges of attempted murder and possession of banned weapons over the shootout.
Abdeslam was brought to Brussels from a jail near Paris under heavy security for the trial on Monday. He had been transferred to France shortly after his arrest in March 2016.
His fellow defendant Ayari, 24, appeared alone in the court on Thursday, listening intently to his Arabic-speaking interpreter but often frowning, surrounded by elite police in balaclavas.
Lawyers for police wounded in the gunbattle earlier Thursday accused Abdeslam, the Belgian-born Frenchman of Moroccan descent, of scorning the trial.
"His attitude and his opportunism tire me," Tom Bauwens, a lawyer for two of the elite police officers involved in the raid in the Forest district of Brussels, told the courtroom.
"He will mock our rule of law, he will mock everybody. He will not recognise your court, he will not recognise your laws," he said. "But he will nevertheless ask for a lawyer to plead his case before you."
The court may take several weeks to deliberate before handing down a verdict.
One of the three police officers injured in the battle, described only as agent nine, is still suffering the after-effects, his lawyer said.
"He is suffering so much from his brain lesions that he no longer knows what to do," Bauwens told the court.
"He has epileptic fits. He has loss of vision and balance. It's the reality. Agent number nine did his work and all he asks for is for you the court to continue the work he started," he said.
Silence 'not criminal'
Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect from the Islamic State cell behind the November 2015 Paris attacks, had said on Monday that his decision to refuse to answer questions was his method of defence, and that "silence does not make me a criminal."
Mary initially represented Abdeslam after his arrest in Brussels, which happened three days after the gun battle, but then dropped the former bar owner because of his attitude.
However Mary then took Abdeslam back on as a client ahead of the trial and managed to delay the hearings from December last year to have more time to prepare.
Prosecutors have said that DNA links Abdeslam to the apartment in the Forest district of Brussels where the shooting took place, but not to the weapons themselves that were used.
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 the Islamic State group, in which 130 people were killed.
Abdeslam's brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.