Trial of the Brussels attacks: start of the first interrogation of the accused

Trial of the Brussels attacks: start of the first interrogation of the accused


The interrogation of the nine defendants in the trial of the Brussels attacks of March 22, 2016 began on Wednesday before the Assize Court of the Belgian capital in a fairly sparse courtroom.  

This is the first time since the opening of the trial on December 5 that the court presided over by Judge Laurence Massart will have the opportunity to hear the words of Salah Abdeslam and the eight other men involved in the double Islamist attack of March 2016, which killed 32 people.

A tenth defendant, Osama Atar, considered to be the ordering party for the Brussels attacks after having coordinated the attacks of November 13, 2015 in France, is tried in his absence. He is presumed dead in the Iraqi-Syrian zone.

The president opened the hearing shortly before 9:30 a.m. by questioning the defendants about their personalities. The first to be heard was Bilal El Makhoukhi, a 34-year-old Belgian-Moroccan, a veteran of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and a member of the jihadist cell involved in the Brussels attacks.

After the examination of the personality of the defendants present, the court must begin an interrogation “by theme”.

Salah Abdeslam and his co-defendants will therefore not testify one after the other, as was the case at the trial of the November 13 attacks in Paris, but together, around different themes.

The interrogations are scheduled over two weeks, but the schedule has often been pushed around since the start of the hearing. Initially, the floor was to be given to the defendants on Monday, but the absence of an assessor judge for medical reasons forced the court to reorganize its schedule.

The interrogations must resume on Thursday before stopping on Friday due to the Easter weekend. They will then not resume until Tuesday.

Five of the nine defendants tried in Belgium have already been sentenced to heavy sentences in June by the French courts for their involvement in the attacks of November 13, 2015, which killed 130 dead: Mohamed Abrini, Salah Abdeslam, Osama Krayem, Sofien Ayari and Ali El Haddad Asufi.

These five defendants face life imprisonment in Belgium.