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2016 jihadist attacks in Brussels: start of a marathon trial

The debates should not open until October.

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2016 jihadist attacks in Brussels: start of a marathon trial

The debates should not open until October. But a preliminary hearing is convened Monday at 09:00 (07:00 GMT) to settle various points of procedure, and in particular to fix the order of appearance of the witnesses who will succeed one another at the bar, a priori until June 2023.

The hearing should also give rise to a lively debate on the closed individual boxes set up in the courtroom for the defendants and compared to "cages" by their lawyers. Several of them said they wanted to get their "demolition".

"I'm not asking him for a chair, I just don't want him to be treated like an animal," said Michel Bouchat, Salah Abdeslam's lawyer.

The French jihadist, the only member still alive of the commandos of November 13, 2015 (130 dead in Paris and Saint-Denis), is one of the ten accused in the trial. He will be absent for this first day.

On the morning of March 22, 2016, two jihadists blew themselves up at Brussels-Zaventem international airport, and a third a good hour later in the metro of the European capital. Balance sheet: 32 dead and more than 340 injured.

At this stage, the federal prosecutor's office has identified 960 civil parties, injured or relatives of victims claiming compensation for damage, in the largest trial ever organized in Belgium before a popular jury.

The investigation quickly revealed, in particular thanks to a computer found in a trash can, that the perpetrators of the attacks of March 22 were linked to those of November 13, members of the same cell of the Islamic State formed largely on the Belgian soil.

It was probably the arrest of Salah Abdeslam on March 18 in Brussels that precipitated the action of the other members of the cell.

In addition to Salah Abdeslam, sentenced to irreducible life imprisonment in France, this new judicial appointment concerns the alleged leader of this cell, Oussama Atar, already tried in absentia for November 13 (he is presumed dead in Syria), as well as four others convicted of the river trial which ended at the end of June in Paris.

- "Scenes of war" -

It is Mohamed Abrini, "the man in the hat" who had abandoned his trolley of explosives at Zaventem airport before fleeing, the Swede Osama Krayem, who had turned back in the metro.

Also on trial are the Tunisian Sofien Ayari, an accomplice in the last days of Salah Abdeslam's flight, and the Belgian-Moroccan Ali El Haddad Asufi, a close friend of the El Bakraoui brothers, two of the three "suicide bombers" who died on March 22.

Four other defendants were not implicated for November 13. Suspected of having helped materially or harbored the suicide bombers in Brussels knowing their intentions, they are considered to be co-authors of the attacks.

All must answer for "assassinations in a terrorist context" and incur life imprisonment.

Facing them, the victims, many of whom are supported by two associations created after the attacks, V-Europe and Life4Brussels, see the trial as a key step in their reconstruction.

“We hope that our suffering will be recognized” and that this marks “the beginning of something else”, Philippe Vandenberghe, a volunteer first aider who intervened at the airport and suffered from post-traumatic stress, told AFP.

Many witnesses spoke of "total chaos", "scenes of war", to describe the situation in Zaventem and the Maelbeek metro just after the explosions which killed sixteen people in each of the two places.

The trial is being held at the former Brussels headquarters of NATO, made available to Belgian justice.

Since the main courtroom can only accommodate 170 people, seven other so-called "relay" rooms have been set up for civil parties, with video transmission of the proceedings and the possibility of remote intervention.

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