4 alleged Paris attackers protest over evidence from Belgium investigators

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Four of the 14 men normally present in the courtroom at the Paris attacks trial in the central Paris Palais de Justice on Thursday refused to take their places in the box for the accused. Their legal teams explained that they are protesting a court decision to allow Belgian police investigators to give evidence at a distance and anonymously.

Four of the men on trial for their alleged involvement in the November 2015 Paris terrorist killings . . . Salah Abdeslam, Mohamed Abrini, Sofien Ayari and Osama Krayem . . . refused to enter the central Paris courtroom on Thursday.

The tribunal president, Jean-Louis Périès, drew the court's attention to the absent at the opening of the hearing.

"You will see that four of the accused are missing from the box," the court president announced. "They have refused to come to the hearing in protest at the physical absence of Belgian police officers."

Salah Abdeslam's defence lawyer, Olivia Ronen, then explained her client's position.

"Salah Abdeslam has played by the rules. He understands that he must be here and that he must take part," the young lawyer said.

"Today, however, he has refused to leave his prison cell because things are happening which are difficult to understand.

"Yesterday we saw an Austrian investigator come to court and testify for over five hours. We find it difficult to understand why the court has decided to let Belgian investigators give evidence by anonymous visioconference."

She was supported by the members of several other defence teams.

"A decision on this question has already been made," said the president, clearly displeased.

He suspended the hearing.

The Belgian police evidence is due to be heard at a distance and anonymously over the next two weeks.

The conditions were requested by the Belgian court authorities.

The Belgian Attorney General, Frédéric Van Leeuw, had warned that he would refuse the French request to hear the Belgian police evidence unless the identities of the anti-terrorist officers involved were protected.

Several French police specialists have already testified under the conditions agreed for their Belgian colleagues, without protest from the prisoners.

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