In the former NATO headquarters, which was converted into a high-security court called “Justitia” at a cost of ten million euros, a trial begins this Monday that will keep Belgium busy for months. Ten men have to answer for the terrorist attacks of March 22, 2016 in Brussels, 32 were killed and hundreds were injured at the time. The most prominent defendant is Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the November 13, 2015 terror squad in Paris, which claimed 130 lives. According to the indictment, Abdeslam was also involved in planning the attack in Brussels. The bloody work of the Islamist terrorist cell, which had its home in Brussels and kept the whole of Europe in suspense with the two attacks, was a traumatic experience for the small country.
Salah Abdeslam, who comes from the Molenbeek district of Brussels and was sentenced to life imprisonment including unlimited preventive detention at the Paris trial, will not appear in the courtroom this Monday. Since this is a kind of preliminary hearing, he is not obliged to do so. With his absence, he also documents the protest against the way he is treated by the Belgian state. His lawyers will object to the fact that the defendants are housed in the courtroom in small glass booths that do not allow direct communication. Abdeslam is being treated “like an animal,” they complain. This also applies to the conditions of detention: Abdeslam was completely isolated in prison in Ittre, Wallonia, in a “dungeon without daylight”.
Almost a thousand joint plaintiffs are admitted to the process. Victims and their families will have a say in the course of the trial, but they should also be given answers as to how the attack could have happened and why the propaganda of the “Islamic State” fell on such fertile ground in Belgium. Most of the alleged perpetrators were born in Belgium or grew up here. Carelessly pursued by the Belgian security authorities, the men in Brussels had planned and carried out the attacks in Paris.
The rest of the group felt so at home here that they chose not to target Belgium when planning new attacks. The men actually believed they were safe in Brussels as long as they didn’t carry out attacks on Belgian soil. This emerges from the minutes of the conversation, which can be found in the indictment. In their Brussels hideout, they mixed masses of explosives to attack the opening ceremony of the European Football Championship in France on June 12, 2016.
Only when the pressure on the Belgian police to investigate became too great did they make plans for an immediate attack without major logistical effort. Salah Abdeslam’s arrest on March 18, 2016 was apparently the initial spark for the attacks four days later. Two assassins blew themselves up at Zaventem Airport, one on an underground train at Maelbeek station, not far from Brussels’ European Quarter.
Six of the ten accused in Brussels were also in the dock in Paris and were convicted there. In addition to Salah Abdeslam, they also include two men who did not blow themselves up at the last moment in Brussels on March 22, 2016: Osama Krayem, who turned back in the subway shaft, and Mohamed Abrini, who dropped his suitcase on the left the airport without detonating it. Because of the recordings of the surveillance cameras at Zaventem Airport, he became known as the “man with a hat”. Abrini successfully lodged a complaint against his prison conditions in August. Since then, he no longer has to spend his days in prison in total isolation.