The largest trial in Belgian history kicked off on Monday with 10 men accused of involvement in Islamist suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and injured over 300.
Set to last seven months, the trial revived painful memories for those who lost loved ones, were injured or witnessed the twin bombings at the airport and a third bomb on the metro on March 22, 2016.
Nine of the accused are charged with multiple murders and attempted murders in a terrorist context, and face potential life sentences. All 10 are accused of participating in the activities of a terrorist group.
Presiding judge Laurence Massart confirmed the identity of the defendants. All except Osama Krayem, a Swedish national accused of planning to be a second bomber at the metro, responded to her questions.
Six of the accused were found guilty in June of involvement in the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, which killed 130 people. However, the Belgian trial will be different in that it will be determined by a jury not judges.
1 defendant presumed dead
The Brussels bombings were claimed by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and killed 15 men and 17 women, who came from Belgium, the United States, Netherlands, Sweden, Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Peru and Poland — many of them based in the city which is home to EU institutions and NATO.
Three suicide attackers also died in the blasts.
Among those on trial is Mohamed Abrini, who prosecutors say went to the airport with two suicide bombers, but fled without detonating his suitcase of explosives.
Salah Abdeslam, born in Brussels to Moroccan parents and the main suspect in the Paris trial, is also among the defendants at the court located at the former headquarters of NATO on the outskirts of the Belgian capital.
Oussama Atar, who has been identified as a possible organizer of the deadly attacks on both Paris and Brussels, will be tried in absentia. He is believed to have died in the Islamic State’s final months of fighting in Iraq and Syria.
Survivors seek justice
In accordance with Belgium court procedure, the defendants have not declared whether they are innocent or guilty.
Prosecutors are expected to start reading from the 486-page indictment on Tuesday before hearings of some 370 experts and witnesses can begin.
Around 1,000 people have registered to be represented in the hearings.
“I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night,” Christelle Giovannetti, who now wears hearing aids due to injuries in the metro bombing, told reporters before the trial began.
Sylvie Ingels, who was near the first airport bomb, said she had had repeated nightmares in recent days.
“If I come today it’s to make this step and go beyond my fears. It’s important to be here. It’s their trial but also ours. We are waiting for some answers,” she said.
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