BRUSSELS, Dec 14 — Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer asked yesterday for next week’s opening of his client’s trial in Belgium to be postponed, a senior court official said, adding it is “highly likely” it will be delayed.
Abdeslam, the sole surviving suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks, had been due to go on trial Monday for his alleged role in a 2016 shootout in Brussels that led to his capture, which in turn investigators believe precipitated the Brussels suicide bombings in March last year.
“It is highly likely that the matter will be postponed,” said Luc Hennart, who heads the court where Abdeslam and his alleged accomplice Sofian Ayari will be tried.
Hennart, who is organising the trial, told AFP that Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary had made the request on his client’s behalf, confirming information from a source close to the investigation.
That source also told AFP on condition of anonymity that Mary’s request should “logically be accepted.”
“There will be a hearing Monday to review the (lawyer’s postponement) request, which will be accepted in principle,” the source close to the investigation said.
Only the lawyers will be present in the court without their clients, the source said, adding the case is likely to be postponed until January.
Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported on its website that Abdeslam’s transfer from France “has been cancelled”.
Under arrangements between the neighbouring countries, he will be transferred to a prison in the north of France and taken to the Belgian capital when the trial begins.
- Terror charges -Abdeslam and Sofian Ayari, also implicated in the shootout, were set to stand trial on charges of “attempting to murder several police officers in a terrorist context” and “carrying prohibited weapons in a terrorist context”.
Ayari is in a prison in Belgium.
During the gun battle on March 15, 2016, in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest, several police officers were wounded and an alleged Abdeslam accomplice was killed.
Both Abdeslam and Ayari were captured days after the shootout, ending a four-month manhunt for Abdeslam for his alleged role in the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.
Abdeslam, 28, is linked to the same cell that carried out suicide bombings in Brussels a week after the gun battle. Thirty-two people were killed at Brussels airport and a metro station near the EU’s headquarters.
Abdeslam, born in Brussels of Moroccan origin, has spent nearly 20 months in isolation, under 24-hour video surveillance, at a prison in the Paris region since his transfer to French authorities in April last year.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office has declined to comment on the development. — AFP