Paris suspect Abdeslam absent for trial defence
BRUSSELS - The trial of Salah Abdeslam resumed in Belgium Thursday, but the last surviving Paris attacks suspect was absent after he refused to return to court.
Abdeslam's lawyers plan to launch his defence in their client's absence on the second day of the trial.
Abdeslam's show of defiance comes after he accused judges of being anti-Muslim, said he would not answer questions and proclaimed he put his "trust in Allah" on the first day of the high-security trial on Monday.
The court said he had refused to return from the French jail where he is being held for the resumption of the trial, which is over a shootout with police in Brussels in March 2016 that led to his arrest.
His lawyer, Sven Mary, told the court Thursday that he would to continue to represent him, an AFP journalist in the courtroom reported.
"Yes, Madame", the lawyer replied when asked by the chief judge, Marie-France Keutgen, if he still wished to defend his client.
Mary has given no indication of the line he intends to take in defence of a client whom he has previously criticised for refusing to talk to investigators.
"We're preparing it," Mary's associate lawyer Romain Delcoigne said.
Abdeslam's co-defendant Sofiane Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian, is now expected to appear alone in the dock at the Palais de Justice for the second and possibly final day of the trial.
- Shootout with police -
The pair face terrorist-related charges of attempted murder and possession of banned weapons over the shootout with police which saw three police officers wounded and an Algerian fellow jihadist killed.
Prosecutors have asked for 20-year jail sentences for both Abdeslam and Ayari.
Belgian media quoted legal experts questioning how best to defend a client who had called the court's judges illegitimate and alleged that all Muslims were mistreated by the justice system.
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.
Mary has previously said Abdeslam had shown few signs of religion, telling French daily Liberation: "I asked him if he had read the Koran, and he replied that he had researched it on the internet."
Abdeslam was extradited to France after his arrest.
He was transferred under police escort from a prison in the Paris suburbs to the court in Brussels overnight on Monday, then taken back to another jail in northern France on Monday night.
The Brussels court will on Thursday first hear from victims of the shootout -- six police officers who were fired at during the gun battle -- before giving the floor to defence lawyers.
- 'Veritable war zone' -
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.
Prosecutor Kathleen Grosjean told the trial on Monday that the police officers -- a joint Belgian-French team -- "faced a veritable war zone" and that it was a "miracle" that none was killed.
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. Abdeslam's DNA or fingerprints were allegedly found at five sites in Belgium used by the cell behind both the Paris and Brussels attacks.