Paris attacks suspect opts for silence in court

A soldier stands guard in front of the Brussels Palace of Justice ahead of the trial of Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects of the 2015 Daesh attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people. (Reuters)
Updated 05 February 2018

Paris attacks suspect opts for silence in court

BRUSSELS: More than two years after militants killed 130 people in their city, Parisians will be hoping for some new insight into the carnage when the sole surviving suspect appears in public for the first time on Monday.
But Salah Abdeslam, who went on trial under high security in his native Brussels Monday in relation to a shooting that preceded his capture in March 2016, has informed the judge that he will remain silent during his hearing.
Kept under 24-hour suicide watch near Paris, the 28-year-old arrived at the court, Belgian news agency Belga said. Reuters reporters saw a convoy of French security vehicles arrive.
Abdeslam will be ferried daily to the Belgian capital’s Palace of Justice from a French prison just across the border. Hearings are scheduled to last all week in a case related to events four months after the Paris attacks of November 2015.
With a French trial not expected until next year, his Belgian appearance, along with alleged accomplice Sofien Ayari, a 24-year-old Tunisian, will be his first moment in public since his arrest on March 18, 2016, close to his family home in the poor, western Brussels borough of Molenbeek.
Both men face up to 40 years in prison for attempted murder linked to terrorism for shooting at Belgian and French police who raided a suspected hideout in the southern Brussels borough of Forest on March 15, 2016.
Prosecutors say Abdeslam and Ayari slipped away, leaving a third gunman holding out until he was killed by police marksmen.
Lawyers for Abdeslam, a French citizen born to and raised by Moroccan immigrant parents in Brussels, accept he was in Paris on Friday, November 13, when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 at the Bataclan concert hall, near the national stadium and at cafes and restaurants.
His elder brother, with whom he ran a bar in Brussels, was among those who blew himself up. Prosecutors believe the younger Abdeslam, whom they accuse of running logistics for the attack including ferrying fighters from Syria across Europe, would have met the same fate had his explosive vest not malfunctioned.
How the pair, from a broadly secular background with a history of petty crime, were transformed into alleged cogs within extensive Daesh cells operating in Belgium and France is unclear. A third brother, who has visited Abdeslam in prison, told a Belgian newspaper in December that he might be preparing to talk, inspired by a devout religious faith.
The trial had been due to start in late December but was delayed after Abdeslam belatedly reappointed a defense counsel, who then requested more time to prepare the case. Lawyers do not rule out that there could be further adjournments this week.
The trial has triggered a high alert in a city where 32 people were killed in suicide bombings at its airport and on its metro system by members of the same Daesh-inspired group on March 22, 2016. That came four days after Abdeslam’s arrest and was prompted, officials believe, by fears among the Brussels cell that he might betray their plan under interrogation.
More than 100 police are expected to be deployed in and around Brussels’ mammoth 19th-century Palace of Justice, which dominates the skyline over the Renaissance city center.


UK scientists to update COVID-19 vaccine to resist new variants

Updated 21 January 2021

UK scientists to update COVID-19 vaccine to resist new variants

LONDON: The team behind the UK’s main COVID-19 vaccine, developed at Oxford University, is preparing to update the inoculation to be resistant to new strains of the virus.

British newspaper The Independent reported that the team is mobilizing this new effort in response to the variants seen in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere.

The efficacy of the current vaccine against the most common strains of COVID-19 is being assessed by scientists from the university, with preliminary results expected toward mid-February. 

Prof. Sarah Gilbert, the team’s lead, said the researchers would not wait to discover the test’s results before acting, and instead are already synthesizing the new variants into the jab that is currently being rolled out nationwide.

Scientists at Oxford University are understood to be confident that their vaccine will not need to be adapted in response to the British variant, which was discovered last month after an especially rapid outbreak in Kent. 

Data published by Pfizer and BioNTech, the producers of the other vaccine being provided in Britain, has indicated that their inoculation is resistant to the new COVID-19 strain.

More analysis is being conducted to assess whether it will be able to neutralize the newer South African and Brazilian variants.

A spokesperson from Oxford University said any necessary modifications would take “one day’s worth of work” before being grown in cell culture within a laboratory.

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