The defence team of Salah Abdeslam took the floor at the Brussels Assise Court on Tuesday afternoon to question investigators and examining magistrates about their investigation into the Brussels attacks of 22 March 2016.
In her first questions to the court, Attorney Delphine Paci focussed mainly on the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, where her client was to have blown himself up in a café –not in the Stade de France -, and then on the evolution of the accused on his return to Belgium.
The lawyer first had witnesses confirm that her client, who was initially a party animal and only later became interested in religion, had not travelled to Syria, unlike his older brother Brahim, one of the suicide bombers in the Paris commando. Salah Abdeslam was, however, interviewed by Belgian police due to suspicions that he wanted to make such a trip.
‘That night … he had to die’
On the evening of 13 November 2015, the accused was supposed to trigger his belt in a cafe after dropping off the suicide bombers at the Stade de France, Delphine Paci revealed on Tuesday.
This is an element that had been unknown to the Brussels Court of Assises until now but appeared in the ruling of the Paris Court of Assises. During the trial in France, Salah Abdeslam did, indeed, provide this information, contradicting one of his few statements, in which he said he was to activate his explosive belt in front of the Stade de France. The expertise later revealed that this belt was defective, and the investigation could not determine whether or not the accused had tried to activate it.
"That night, for the (terrorist) cell, he had to die," the lawyer summed up. She later had investigators confirm that her client had not been given a very warm welcome when he arrived at the safe house on Avenue Henri Bergé in Schaerbeek.
No material for making explosives found
Salah Abdeslam had, moreover, returned to Belgium with people who had nothing to do with the organisation of the Paris attacks, Delphine Paci pointed out.
Both in the Schaerbeek hideout and in the next one, on the Avenue de l'Exposition in Jette, no material for the making of explosives for the Brussels attacks were found, investigators and investigating judges acknowledged.
The Paris Assise Court ruling, for its part, stated that explosives were made at both addresses, but with a view to the 13 November attacks.
After his stays in Scharbeek and Jette, Salah Abdeslam was taken to the flat in Rue du Dries in Forest, where a shooting occurred on 15 March 2016. Mohamed Belkaïd lost his life in the confrontation with the police, while Sofien Ayari and Salah Abdeslam fled.
‘I note this answer,' the defence lawyer concluded
“Why didn't the investigators draw up a portrait of Mohamed Belkaïd in the context of this trial before the assise court?" asked Michel Bouchat, Salah Abdeslam's other lawyer.
If a presentation was to take place, it would be in the context of the trial for the events of 15 March, the investigating judges replied.
"I note this answer," the lawyer concluded.