Suspect from 2015 Paris attacks speaks to judge for 1st time

PARIS (AP) — The only surviving member of the Islamic State cell that attacked Paris in November 2015 has agreed for the first time to answer a judge’s questions, but limited his responses to a specific person accused of helping him after the attacks.

A source close to the case told The Associated Press that Salah Abdeslam was in a judge’s office on Friday for a joint hearing with Ali Oulkadi, who allegedly drove him in Brussels the day after the Paris attacks.

Oulkadi dropped Abdeslam off at a safe house that also was used as a workshop for manufacturing explosive belts.

The source, who was not allowed to speak publicly on the case, said Abdeslam spoke to help clear Oulkadi and refused to answer other questions.

Jean Reinhart, a lawyer for victims of the Paris attacks, told BFM television that Abdeslam said Oulkadi “didn’t know exactly who he was” when he gave him the ride.

“It’s extremely important to us, because it’s the first time he’s starting to speak. It gives us a little hope to think that maybe, later, at the trial or maybe before, he will be able to speak again.”

Abdeslam previously said silence would be his defense and systematically refused to answer the judge’s questions about the attacks or any aspect of them.

Abdeslam was Europe’s most-wanted fugitive when he was captured in Brussels as a suspect in the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people, after four months on the run. He was extradited from Belgium to France.

He is imprisoned, but hasn’t gone to trial in France.

Abdeslam and another man, Sofiane Ayari, went on trial last month in Brussels, where they face charges of attempted murder in a terrorist context for a March 15, 2016, shootout with police. Abdeslam escaped out a window with Ayari. A third Islamic State suspect died.

The pair were captured a few days later. On March 22, 2016, Islamic State suicide bombers struck the Brussels metro and airport.

Prosecutors have asked for the maximum 20-year prison sentence.

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