Eight to ten months. The expected duration of the assize trial which is due to open on Monday, September 12, in Brussels, to try the alleged perpetrators of the attacks at Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station, in the Belgian capital, on March 22, 2016, promises to be exceptional. The three suicide operations (two at the airport, one in the metro), committed an hour apart, left 32 dead, apart from the suicide bombers, and 340 injured, just four days after the arrest, in Molenbeek, of Salah Abdeslam. The only survivor of the three commandos who struck Paris and Saint-Denis on November 13, 2015, during attacks claimed by the Islamic State organization.
Salah Abdeslam, already sentenced to twenty years in prison, in Brussels, in April 2018, for his involvement in a shooting that occurred in Forest, three days before his arrest, was also sentenced in Paris, in June, to irreducible life for his participation in the attacks committed in France. He will again be the main defendant in this new river trial, among sixteen people in total, including the three deceased suicide bombers: Najim Laachraoui, Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui. Mohamed Abrini and Osama Krayem, both already sentenced in Paris, will be two of the other defendants present. They were to blow themselves up, the first in Zaventem, the second in the metro, but gave up in extremis.
All the defendants, implicated to varying degrees, will have to answer for murders, or attempted murders, committed in a terrorist context. Osama Atar will be tried in absentia – he is said to have died in Syria during an airstrike by the international coalition in 2017 – for his role as leader of a terrorist group.
Fully glazed individual boxes
Given the exceptional nature of the facts and the unprecedented scale of this trial in Belgium, the Assize Court had to abandon the dilapidated Brussels courthouse to settle in the former NATO premises, far from the center town. The organization, entrusted in the last resort to the federal prosecutor’s office, is already asking various questions and the president of the court, Laurence Massart, will have to decide some of them at the end of a preliminary hearing, the debates not having to really begin until October 10.
Defense attorneys talk about “major problems” including the fact that the accused will be placed in individual boxes, completely glazed, preventing direct communication with their defenders. The latter cite as an example the special assize court in Paris, where the accused were seated in a collective, semi-open space. “The contact of the defendants with the lawyers, their participation in the debates, respect for the presumption of innocence, these are the requirements of the procedure, but we were obviously not heard. As a last resort, however, it is the president of the court who will decide.emphasizes Luc Hennart, former president of the Brussels court of first instance and spokesperson for the assize court for the trial.
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