Paris attack suspect Abdeslam tight-lipped in first interrogation

20th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

The last surviving member of the jihadist team that attacked Paris, Salah Abdeslam, refused to answer questions in his first interview with a French anti-terror judge on Friday.

Authorities had hoped Abdeslam would shed some light on the operational details of the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people, as well as provide clues as to whether other members of the wider jihadist cell are still at large.

But his lawyer Frank Berton said: "He did not want to say anything today."

The 26-year-old was prepared to speak at "a later date", the lawyer added. "We need to give him time."

A source close to the investigation said Abdeslam's silence may have been the result of advice from Mehdi Nemmouche, the man suspected of a shooting at the Jewish museum in Brussels in 2014.

They were locked up in the same prison in the Belgian city of Bruges after Abdeslam was captured in March and were able to shout to each other from their respective cells, the source said, quoting Belgian prison guards.

Nemmouche reportedly told Abdeslam -- who was being kept in isolation without a television -- about the March 22 attacks in Brussels that left 32 dead and advised him to "keep quiet... because they'll send you to France to be tried."

Abdeslam, who had responded to questions during his first interrogation with Belgian police, has not cooperated since.

He is the only surviving member of the group of Islamic State (IS) gunmen and suicide bombers who attacked multiple night spots around the French capital and tried to breach the Stade de France national stadium.

For months, he was the most-wanted fugitive in Europe until he was tracked down and arrested on March 18 in the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek where he grew up.

Transferred to France on April 27, Abdeslam was brought for questioning on Friday in a large black 4x4 vehicle with tinted windows, escorted by heavily armed elite police and a helicopter flying overhead.

The Paris prosecutor's office said: "From the start, he exercised his right to remain silent by refusing to reply to questions from an investigating magistrate."

- Bataclan attacker buried -

Meanwhile, Foued Mohamed-Aggad, one of the men who attacked the Bataclan concert hall where 90 people died on November 13, was buried in eastern France early Friday, an investigation source said.

Mohamed-Aggad was buried in Wissembourg in the Alsace region where he had lived with his mother before travelling to Syria in late 2013.

Abdeslam played more of a logistical role, renting cars and hideouts for the gang and transporting the three suicide bombers who blew themselves up outside the Stade de France, killing one person.

A childhood friend of suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Abdeslam is thought to have backed out of blowing himself up. An abandoned explosives vest was found in a dustbin in southern Paris close to where mobile phone data placed him on the night of the attacks, although his DNA was not found on it.

CCTV pictures from petrol stations showed him fleeing back to Belgium in the hours after the attack.

In the preceding months, he also transported other jihadists around Europe, including Najim Laachraoui, the suspected bombmaker who went on to kill himself as one of the suicide bombers who struck Brussels in March.

- 'Often about denials' -

Investigators hope Abdeslam can shine light on the links between the attacks in Paris and Belgium, both claimed by IS.

Berton had told AFP before the hearing that Abdeslam wanted to "explain himself".

However, Jean Reinhart, a lawyer representing some of the victims, had warned before the hearing not to expect much in the early stages.

"The first interviews are often about denials. We should maybe leave the process to unfold for a while," he said.

Abdeslam's lawyer before his extradition from Brussels, Sven Mary, has described him as a "little idiot" with the "intelligence of an empty ashtray".

In his two interrogations in Belgium, Abdeslam gave the impression he was merely a pawn of Abaaoud and his own brother Brahim, who blew himself up outside a Paris cafe during the November attacks, though some have argued he may be putting on an act to lessen his responsibility.

But he has already been caught in a lie, saying he only met Abaaoud once before, when in fact they had a record of teenage delinquency together in Molenbeek.


© 2016 AFP

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