The prime surviving suspect in the 2015 Daesh attacks on Paris says he will answer no questions as his trial in Belgium over a shooting that preceded his arrest got under way.

A court artist drawing shows Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the 2015 Daesh attacks in Paris, in court during his trial in Brussels, Belgium, February 5, 2018.
A court artist drawing shows Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the 2015 Daesh attacks in Paris, in court during his trial in Brussels, Belgium, February 5, 2018. (Reuters)

The only surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, defied Belgian judges on Monday, refusing to stand before a judge and answer questions.

Abdeslam's arrest ended four months on the run as Europe's most wanted man following the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, and in which his brother Brahim is alleged to have carried out a suicide bombing.

The 28-year-old, who has grown long hair and a beard during his nearly two years behind bars told the court, "I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of your allies."

The Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent alleged that the court in Brussels was biased against Muslims as he explained why he would not cooperate despite having asked to attend the trial.

"My silence does not make me a criminal - it's my defence," Abdeslam said. "Muslims are judged and treated in the worst of ways — mercilessly. There is no presumption of innocence."

His refusal to cooperate frustrated some at the court whose relatives died in Paris on November 13, 2015.

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood reports.

Abdeslam also refused to allow photographs or video images to be taken of him.

He has point-blank refused to speak to investigators since his arrest in Brussels March 2016, three days after the gun battle in the Forest district of the city for which he is on trial.

At the time he initially answered some investigators' questions, but then refused to answer other questions.

Abdeslam and Sofiane Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian arrested with him, face charges of attempted terrorist murder of police officers and carrying banned weapons.

Three police officers were wounded and an Algerian fellow militant was killed.

The pair face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Heavy police presence

Police officers wearing body armour and black balaclavas with eye- and mouth-holes stood guard next to them as the trial started.

Abdeslam, wearing a long-sleeved light shirt and dark trousers, launched into his diatribe after presiding judge Marie-France Keutgen asked why he insisted on attending the trial when he refused to answer questions about the charges against him.

The judge rejected his accusations of bias, insisting he was presumed innocent.

Hundreds of members of Belgian security forces turned the Palais de Justice court building into a virtual fortress while a helicopter with searchlights circled overhead as he arrived.

TRT World's Jack Parrock has more from Brussels.

Prelude

The non-jury trial is the prelude to a later one in France and prosecutors hope the Brussels case will yield clues not only about the Paris attacks but also the Brussels bombings on March 22, 2016.

Daesh had claimed both attacks.

Investigators believe Abdeslam's capture three days after the shootout caused members of his terrorist cell to bring forward plans for the attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station in which 32 people were killed.

Ayari, who is cooperating with authorities, told the judge he knew Ibrahim Bakroui, one of the suicide bombers at Brussels airport, adding he visited the apartment where the shootout occurred.

The same cell is believed to have been behind both the Paris and Brussels attacks, which were claimed by Daesh.

But Ayari - who entered Europe via the Greek islands during the European migration crisis in 2015 - insisted: "I don't think I am a radical."

Shrouded in secrecy

The plans for transferring Abdeslam from Fleury-Merogis prison in the Parisian suburbs, and then back to a prison just across the border in northern France every night, were shrouded in secrecy.

Two separate convoys left Fleury-Merogis in the middle of the night with an escort of elite French officers with blue lights flashing, while a third group of unmarked vehicles left shortly afterwards.

The boyish former bar owner has spent nearly 20 months in isolation under 24-hour video surveillance at Fleury-Merogis, after being transferred to France after his arrest.

Police say Abdeslam and Ayari escaped through the back door of the flat in Forest while a third suspect, Algerian Mohamed Belkaid, died while providing covering fire for their escape through a back door.

Police say they found Abdeslam's fingerprints in the flat, confirming they were on the trail of the last suspect in the rifle and bomb attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, bars, restaurants and the national stadium in the French capital on November 13, 2015.

Abdeslam is reported to have disposed of a suicide belt before fleeing. He is also suspected of being the driver in the attacks.

Three days after the raid, armed officers shot Abdeslam in the leg and captured him and Ayari just yards from Abdeslam's home in Molenbeek, a Brussels immigrant neighbourhood.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies