Dope, drinks and dangerous propaganda: a glimpse inside the Abdeslam brothers' café

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Only two of the three witnesses called on Thursday actually gave evidence. Both were associates of the Abdeslam brothers at their café in Brussels. Both spoke by videolink from the federal police building in the Belgian capital. Neither had much to say.

The first witness, identified as Rafik E. H., admitted that he had been a friend and business associate of Brahim Abdeslam.

"Brahim was a friend. We ran the café Les Béguines together. I knew the brother to say hello to, and the others, but I didn't hang out with them. They were locals.

"I knew nothing about the attacks. I was in Morocco at the time. I wasn't involved. It's nothing to do with me."

The court president, Jean-Louis Périès, assured the witness that he was not himself on trial but was simply being asked to help the court to a better understanding of some of the key individuals involved.

In fact, Rafik E. H. will be tried, next year in Belgium, as one of about a dozen people suspected of having participated in the activities of those who carried out the Paris massacres.

The witness confirmed that Islamic State propaganda videos were frequently viewed in the Molenbeek café. And he spoke of Skype contacts "every two or three days" between Brahim Abdeslam and Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man who commanded the Paris attack squads.

"But I was busy with the customers. I didn't pay much attention."

A lot of narcotics changed hands in Les Béguines, Rafik E. H. confirmed.

Saw no change in behaviour

The second witness, identified as Bilal E. S., was not much help either. He knew the Abdeslam brothers as well as two other accused, Mohamed Abrini and Ahmed Dahmani. Les Béguines was the café at the corner of the street where he lived.

But he didn't go there very often, because of the drugs.

"I don't know much," he assured the court, going on to blame Salah Abdeslam for getting the others involved.

Salah Abdeslam, still boycotting the hearings, was not present to hear that claim. There was no reaction from his legal team.

The day ended with the reading of police statements made by the third witness scheduled to be heard, Rachid M. He changed his mind and decided not to testify.

In various interviews with the authorities, he admitted to knowing Salah Abdeslam "as a neighbour", but never noticed any significant change in his behaviour. He knew nothing about the Paris attacks before they took place.

Rachid M. was also a business associate of the accused Mohamed Abrini, with whom he ran another Molenbeek café, the Délinice.

The trial continues.

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