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Lawyers for Paris terror suspect to stop defending him over continuing silence

Salah Abdeslam
Salah Abdeslam

Lawyers for the only surviving suspect in last November's terror attack in Paris have said they will no longer defend him because he refuses to speak.

Frank Berton and Sven Mary said they have decided to stop representing Salah Abdeslam, who has chosen to remain silent in a protest against his prison conditions, including the 24-hour video surveillance of his cell.

Mr Berton told a press conference on Wednesday that Abdeslam, who was arrested in the Belgian capital, Brussels, in March and then transferred to France, has been psychologically damaged by his detention at Fleury-Merogis prison.

"I've been convinced for months that he is isolating and radicalising himself, he is taking his video surveillance very badly," the lawyer said. "This is not blackmail, it's just the reality of his psychological and psychic state. The problem is related to his solitary confinement."

According to Mr Berton, Abdeslam was initially willing to speak and the lawyer urged French authorities to soften their tough approach.

Authorities hope Abdeslam can provide information about the Islamic State group's strategies and networks, and identify others who might have had a connection to the November 13 attacks in the French capital, which killed 130 people.

The same network that attacked Paris struck again in Abdeslam's hometown of Brussels in March, days after he was arrested in his hideout.

Mr Berton previously argued that two round-the-clock video cameras in Abdeslam's cell could cause psychological damage, but France's top administrative authority rejected the lawyer's request to remove them. Judicial authorities argue that the surveillance is needed to ensure the suspect does not commit suicide.

"He is demonised because he is the only surviving suspect," Mr Berton said. "There is no other inmate in France detained in the same conditions."

Abdeslam, 27, had initially said he wanted to explain his path to radicalisation and his role in the attacks on Paris's Bataclan concert hall, cafes and the national stadium. The other attackers died in suicide bombings or under police fire.

Abdeslam's role in the attacks has never been clear. The Paris prosecutor has said he was equipped as a suicide bomber that night, but abandoned his plans and fled.

Abdeslam evaded police for four months, but was arrested in the Brussels neighbourhood where he grew up. He was later extradited to France and faces several preliminary terrorism charges.

"It's impossible to try to defend someone who refuses to defend himself. He has decided not to defend himself," Mr Berton said, adding that Abdeslam's silence will be detrimental to the victims' families.

"He is going to be accused of all crimes and will be responsible for all ... There will be a trial, but what for? The truth never came out of silence."

Mr Berton added that Abdeslam had refused to speak to a judge twice since his transfer to France and skipped another hearing.

"When you have the feeling of being there to make social visits to the prison, a decision has to be made," his colleague, Mr Mary, told BFM-TV.