Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam to stand trial in Belgium over police shooting

Abdeslam and accomplice escaped as fellow militant opened fire on police in March 2016.

A Belgian court has ordered Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam to stand trial over a shooting while he was fleeing a Europe-wide manhunt.

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The 27-year-old could become the first suspect linked to the Isis massacres to appear in court by the end of this year, while his alleged participation in the November 2015 attacks will be the subject of a separate trial in France.

Abdeslam stands accused of playing a key role providing logistics for suicide bombers, including his own brother, who killed 130 people in the French capital.

He fled back to his native Brussels as the massacres were underway and disappeared with the suspected help of accomplices linked to the criminal underworld where he was formerly known as a drug dealer and thief.

The trail went cold until March last year, when Belgian and French police stormed what they believed was an empty terrorist safe house in the district of Forest.

But they were met by a hail of bullets from a militant armed with a Kalashnikov, who was shot dead as two suspects fled across surrounding rooftops.

A search of the flat resulted in the recovery of Abdeslam’s fingerprints on a glass, convincing authorities that he was still in Brussels, and the renewed search led police his hideout just metres from his former home in Molenbeek.

Abdeslam and suspected accomplice Sofiane Ayari were detained and charged with attempted terrorist murder over the gun battle in Forest, where Algerian Isis militant Mohamed Belkaid was killed.

The pair escaped during the firefight, which injured six police officers, although it is unclear whether Belkaid was the only gunman or whether Abdeslam and Ayari were involved.

Ayari had arrived in Europe with another member of the terror cell and held a forged Syrian passport in the name of Monir Ahmed Alaaj, as well as a fake Belgian identity card in the name of Amine Choukri.

Abdeslam did not appear in Brussels’ Chambre du Conseil court for Thursday’s hearing as he remains imprisoned in France.

He previously denied previous knowledge of the Brussels bombings that killed 32 people just four days after he was captured, despite the perpetrators coming from the same cell of Isis terrorists.

Abdeslam was known to be friends with Najim Laachraoui, the bomb-maker for the Paris and Brussels attacks, who blew himself up at Brussels Airport and travelled to Hungary with Abdeslam and Belkaid in September 2015.

The raided flat where Abdeslam and Ayari hid in Rue du Dries, Forest, had been rented by Brussels metro bomber Khalid el-Bakraoui, who also procured another flat used as a rendezvous ahead of the Paris attacks in Charleroi.

The property contained DNA traces of both Abdeslam brothers, Stade de France bomber Bilal Hadfi, suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Chakib Akrouh, who both died during a raid by Paris police five days after the attacks.

The complex web of connections between the terrorists behind the Paris and Brussels attacks has led to analysts dubbing the group a “supercell”, who had been dispatched by Isis commanders in Syria with specific roles drawing on their criminal past.

Abdeslam is the only surviving Paris attacks suspect, while his childhood friend Mohamed Abrini failed to detonate his bomb at Brussels Airport and was captured following a manhunt that saw him dubbed the “man in the hat”.

The Independent