2016 Brussels bombings: Ten men go on trial over airport and metro attacks

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By Euronews  with AFP
A woman and children sit and mourn for the victims of the bombings at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, Wednesday, March 23, 2016
A woman and children sit and mourn for the victims of the bombings at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, Wednesday, March 23, 2016   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Six years after the 2016 Brussels terror attacks, Belgium’s largest-ever criminal trial has begun in the capital.

Ten men are accused of being members of the terrorist cell that carried out the worst peacetime attack in Belgian history.

A total of 32 people were killed and over 340 others injured in rush-hour bombings at Brussels’ airport and on the city’s metro system.

One victim, Loubna Selassi, told reporters at the courthouse that she felt stressed and anxious at the beginning of the trial.

"It's the first day, so it's obviously very difficult," she said.

**"I hesitated until the last moment and I told myself that we would have to be present at some point, as there are also testimonies planned. So, little by little, we'll see how it goes. And when you're accompanied, it's always easier," she added.

Esmael Fazal Sarah lost her sister in the metro and does not expect much from this trial.

"I have no hatred. I have no hatred at all. I have never met anyone. The look does nothing to me. I am at peace with myself and as I said in the previous stuff; I really don't hate the accused," Fazal said.

Credit: AP
The blown out windows of Zaventem airport are seen after a deadly attack in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday, March 22, 2016Credit: AP

The suspects include Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the Belgium-based cell that killed 130 people in the Paris attacks in November 2015.

Another defendant, Mohamed Abrini – known as the "man in the hat" – is suspected of abandoning his explosive device at the airport during the attacks.

The eight other suspects are accused of supplying the Brussels attackers with weapons and logistical assistance or supporting the terrorist cell.

Nine of the men face life imprisonment if convicted, while the tenth could be jailed for up to 10 years.

One of the ten defendants is presumed dead in Syria and will be tried in absentia by the Brussels court of assizes.

Vincent Lurquin, a lawyer for Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa, one of the accused, said it is necessary that the debates can take place and that everyone can express themselves.

"I really believe that the most important thing is to listen to the civil parties. It is dignity, it is listening to their suffering. And the concrete consequence for us will be to say: we are not hiding behind the right to remain silent," Lurquin told Euronews.

"But we are convinced that we must have a judicial debate and that we must speak, we must explain ourselves, we must answer the questions of the civil parties. We must also have responsibilities. It's not just the nine people in the box who are responsible for what happened."

The attacks in Brussels came just four days after Belgian police had arrested Abdeslam at an apartment in Brussels’ Molenbeek district.

On the morning of 22 March, two suicide bombers detonated devices in the departure lounge at Brussels-Zaventem international airport. Sixteen people were killed in the two blasts and dozens of others were injured.

A third suspected bomber – Abrini -- was seen on CCTV dropping a large bag, containing explosives, before leaving the terminal.

Martin Meissner/AP
A banner for the victims of the bombings reads " I am Brussels" at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, Wednesday, March 23, 2016.Martin Meissner/AP

Minutes later, another suicide bomb was detonated on a metro train, as it was just about to leave Maelbeek station in central Brussels, near the city’s EU quarter. Sixteen more people were killed.

The attacks were later claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group over Belgium's “war against Islam”.

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify at the trial in Brussels, which is expected to last until June.