Accused Belgian Plotter Says He Was Just ‘Talking Big’

BRUSSELS (AP) -
A man gestures as he talks to judges during a trial of a suspected extremist cell linked to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the now-dead ringleader of last year's lethal attacks in Paris, at the Justice Palace in Brussels on Thursday May 12, 2016. Sixteen defendants, including nine who are still at large, are accused of involvement in what Belgian authorities say was a terrorist plot being mounted in the eastern city of Verviers. Lawyers for some of the accused contend their clients did nothing illegal. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
A man gestures as he talks to judges during the trial of a suspected terrorist cell linked to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the now-dead ringleader of last year’s terror attacks in Paris, at the Justice Palace in Brussels on Thursday. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

For Belgian authorities, he’s a key actor in a terror plot foiled just in time that was run remotely by the ringleader of last fall’s gun and bomb attacks in Paris.

But former security guard Marouane El Bali told a Brussels court Thursday that if he’s guilty of anything, it’s of talking big.

According to court proceedings, the 26-year-old was heard on a wiretapped phone announcing in code that he had managed to buy a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle for 1,200 euros (about $1,360).

“I was talking [big] more than anything else,” El Bali told the judge.

He is on trial with six other men accused of belonging to a cell linked to Islamic terrorists that police broke up when they stormed a house in the Belgian city of Verviers on Jan. 15, 2015.

Two suspected plotters died in the police assault, and El Bali, who was with them, surrendered. All three men were from the same Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek.

Belgian officials say the operation was being managed at a distance by another Molenbeek man, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was in Greece at the time. Abaaoud, ringleader of the carnage that killed 130 victims in Paris on Nov. 13, died in a police siege soon afterward.

Short and heavyset, El Bali is thought by Belgian law enforcement officials to be the Verviers cell member referred to by others as “Big Guy.” Sebastien Courtoy, El Bali’s defense lawyer, said his client had been part of the group for less than 24 hours.

Questioned by the judges, El Bali minimized his role.

“I don’t know anything about weapons,” he said. He said he was talking “nonsense” as police eavesdropped.

Nine other people charged in the case are on the run. The trial, which started Monday, is expected to last three weeks.