Salah Abdeslam: Paris suspect attacks ‘anti-Muslim bias’
The sole surviving suspect from the 2015 Paris terror attacks is refusing to speak any further in a Belgian court, where he is on trial over the gunfight that led to his arrest.
Salah Abdeslam has said he will not respond to questions from the judge.
"My silence does not make me a criminal, it's my defence," he said.
Abdeslam, 28, claimed that Muslims were "judged and treated in the worst of ways, mercilessly", and said he was placing his trust in Allah.
"I am not afraid of you, I am not afraid of your allies," he added, without making clear who he meant.
He urged the prosecution to base its case on "forensic and tangible evidence", and not to "swagger about to satisfy public opinion".
Abdeslam has refused to speak to investigators since his initial interrogation in March 2016.
What is Abdeslam accused of?
French prosecutors believe Abdeslam played a key role in the Paris attacks, in which gunmen and suicide bombers targeted a concert hall, stadium, restaurants and bars, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds more.
He became Europe's most wanted man after the mass killings, and was captured in Brussels four months later.
The defendant's brother, Brahim, was among the Paris attackers and died in a suicide blast outside a cafe.
Abdeslam is not expected to go on trial in France until 2019 at the earliest.
The charges he faces in Brussels are not related to events in Paris, but to a shootout he had with police while on the run in Belgium.
Abdeslam and his suspected accomplice Sofien Ayari, 24, are accused of possessing illegal weapons and the attempted murder of police officers in a terrorist context.
The men allegedly fought a gun battle with officers who raided the flat where they were holed up, in the Molenbeek district of Brussels.
They face up to 40 years in prison if found guilty.
In court on Monday, Ayari said he had fought for the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in Syria, and that both he and Abdeslam were present during the standoff.
From the courtroom: Damian Grammaticas, BBC News, in Brussels
Salah Abdeslam entered the court silently, all eyes trained on him. On either side of Abdeslam stood police guards wearing balaclavas.
The photographs released by police during the four-month manhunt for him following the Paris attacks had shown a clean-shaven young man with short-cropped hair. Now his hair was longer, almost shoulder length. In prison he's also grown a beard.
The old photos showed a slim, seemingly relaxed-looking man, the air of a swagger about him. Now he moved a little hesitantly. He said nothing. When the judge asked him to confirm his identity Abdeslam, wearing a white jacket, did not respond. She asked again. He had to be coaxed to acknowledge his own name.
The judge explained to the court that Abdeslam did not want his picture to be shown, so any filming of him was prohibited.
The man who prosecutors say was a willing part of a murderous gang that killed 130 people in Paris was unwilling now to show his face, or even to speak up in front of the court. He has also refused to talk to prosecutors, or even lawyers representing him.
As his co-accused Sofien Ayari stood to answer questions about his time in Syria, and the automatic weapons they had kept in a flat in Brussels, Abdeslam sat in silence. For now he seems determined to divulge nothing about his role, or anything else connected to the attacks.
Who gets Abdeslam, France or Belgium?
Abdeslam, a French citizen born to Moroccan parents in Brussels, has been held at a prison near Paris. He left the facility under armed guard in the early hours of Monday, accompanied by tactical police vehicles.
He will return to France every night during the trial, but will be held at another jail just across the border.
Up to 200 police will be guarding the courthouse for the trial, which is expected to last four days.
Is his silence a major obstacle?
The right to silence is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, but it is not an absolute right.
European human rights law says a defendant's decision to remain silent can be taken into account when assessing the prosecution's evidence. That is especially so "in situations which clearly call for an explanation from him [the defendant]".
Observers say that given other suspects have spoken and co-operated with the police, Abdeslam's silence won't necessarily hurt the prosecution's case.
But if he remains silent on the Paris attacks too, it would "be horrible for the victims' families", said Guy Van Vlierden, a Belgian journalist specialising in security and terrorism issues.
What happened in the Paris attacks?
- Three explosions outside the Stade de France stadium in the north of Paris on 13 November 2015 as suicide attackers were prevented from entering.
- Minutes later, several people were killed as shootings and bombings took place around bars and restaurants, including the cafe-bar Le Carillon, in the centre of town.
- The worst attack of the night occurred at the Bataclan concert hall. Eighty-nine people were killed as attackers with suicide belts fired assault rifles into the crowd.
- Salah Abdeslam was the only attacker to escape but he was captured in Brussels the following March.