Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

BRUSSELS: Belgium launched its biggest-ever criminal trial on Wednesday, the landmark prosecution of alleged jihadists accused of directing or aiding 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels’ metro and airport that killed 32 people.

The prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: “Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic.”

Salah is already notorious after being convicted in a separate trial in France for his role in 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Only one of the nine defendants present, 30-year-old Osama Krayem, refused to stand as they were presented to the high-security court in the disused former headquarters of the NATO alliance.

A 10th suspect, 33-year-old Oussama Atar, is believed to have been killed in Syria.

Wednesday’s hearing kicked off jury selection from a huge poll of more than 1,000 citizens.

The court was to choose 12 jurors and 24 potential replacements who will need to attend near-daily sessions of a months-long process leading into next year.

On Dec. 5, the main evidential hearings will begin.

Both the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks and the March 22, 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels were claimed by the Daesh group, and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium- based cell, including Abdeslam.

The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France, but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. 

Four days later, on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city center metro station near the headquarters of the European Union.

Alongside those killed, hundreds of travelers and transport staff were maimed and six years on many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatized.

Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock in Belgium have already been convicted in the French trial, including Abdeslam. He is serving life without parole in France and faces a further sentence in Belgium.

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify in the months to come, some still hope that telling the story of Belgium’s worst peace- time massacre will offer them a measure of closure.