Paris Attacks Suspect Refuses to Speak at First Court Hearing

(AP) -
Journallists surround Frank Berton, lawyer of Salah Abdeslam, outside the courthouse after the arrival of Paris attacks suspect at the main law court in Paris, France, May 20, 2016 for his first hearing before French judges. Abdeslam is believed by investigators to be the sole survivor among a group of Islamist militants who killed 130 people in a series of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Journallists surround Frank Berton, lawyer of Salah Abdeslam, outside the courthouse after the arrival of the Paris attacks suspect at the main law court in Paris, Friday, for his first hearing before French judges. (Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The man prosecutors believe is the sole survivor of the Islamist terror group that attacked Paris in November appeared in a French court for the first time on Friday, but refused to speak.

Salah Abdeslam was flown by helicopter, under armed guard, to the heart of Paris from his cell in a high-security prison outside the city, but the hearing was cut short after it became clear he would not talk.

“From the start he made clear he would be exercising his right to silence, refusing to respond to questions from the judge,” a spokesman from the prosecutor’s office said in a message to Reuters.

Salah Abdeslam’s lawyer, Frank Berton said his client invoked his right to silence.

Friday was the first time Abdeslam was questioned since his extradition from Belgium last month. At that point, Berton said his client wanted to talk to investigators and explain his path to radicalization. It was unclear why the suspect changed his mind.

Abdeslam, a French citizen of Moroccan origin, was handed a half-dozen preliminary terrorism charges after his transfer on April 27 from Belgium, where he was arrested after four months on the run.

He is the only suspect still alive believed to have played a direct role in the Nov. 13 terror attacks, which killed 130 people. The other terrorists died in suicide bombings or under police fire.

Authorities and families of attack victims had hoped Abdeslam’s testimony will shed light on how IS plotted the attacks, solve mysteries that remain about what exactly happened Nov. 13, and identify others who might have been involved, or support networks still hiding in the shadows.

Abdeslam’s precise role in the attacks has never been clear. The Paris prosecutor has said he was equipped as a suicide bomber, but abandoned his plans and fled to Belgium, where he had grown up. Abdeslam’s older brother blew himself up at a cafe during the Paris attacks.

Abdeslam was captured March 18 at a hideout near his childhood home in Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood. Four days later, suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the Brussels airport and metro, killing 32 people.