Start of trial of 10 accused of role in 2016 Brussels terror attacks

Proceedings in specially constructed court are expected to last from six to nine months

Ten men will go on trial accused of playing a role in the Brussels terror attacks of 2016 that killed 32 people and injured hundreds in what was Belgium’s worst peacetime atrocity.

The trial, taking place in a specially constructed court in Nato’s former headquarters in the north of the Belgian capital, begins proceedings on Monday, more than 6½ years after the attacks on Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station on March 22nd, 2016.

The 10 accused include Salah Abdeslam, who last year was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison in separate legal proceedings for his role in Paris attacks in 2015 which killed 130 people and injured more than 490. Abdeslam is among five of the accused who have been convicted in France over the Paris attacks.

Also in the dock in Belgium is Mohamed Abrini, who is alleged to be the “man in the hat” caught on camera with two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the attack on Brussels airport. Prosecutors say Abrini left a bomb in the departure hall and fled the scene.


Abrini, who admitted driving bombers to the scene of the Paris attacks, was last year sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 22 years for his role in the shootings in the French capital.

Another defendant, Osama Krayem, planned to be a metro suicide bomber but changed his mind at the last minute, one of his former lawyers said in 2016. One of the accused, Oussama Atar, will be tried in absentia. He is believed to have been killed in Syria in 2017.

The first week of the trial will be dominated by the reading of the charges against the accused. The case will be heard by a jury of seven women and five men selected last week by lot from a pool of 1,000 people. A further 24 standby jurors are ready to take their place in case of absence.

The trial is expected to last six to nine months, and will hear from hundreds of survivors and witnesses, including experts in medicine, psychiatry and criminology. From mid-January victims of the bombings will have the chance to speak to the court.

Philippe Vandenberghe was working at Brussels’ Zaventem airport when two suicide bombers detonated their devices in the terminal. He immediately went to help people. “A chance to save lives is the most important thing that can happen,” he said in a recent interview. “I intervened on 18 different people, I’m sure I saved one, probably two or three.”

He recalled victims who had lost limbs, as well as two children who lay next to a lifeless body – “probably their mother”. He tried to resuscitate the woman but it was too late.

After being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder in a specialised clinic, Vandenberghe left his airport job in 2019. “My life was completely destroyed, I lost my friends, my hobbies, my job,” Vandenberghe told AFP. He is now a Red Cross volunteer and hopes to become an ambulance driver.

Jaana Mettala, a Swedish national, was 6½ months pregnant when she was travelling on the metro train that was bombed in the second attack. Speaking to Belgian TV, she said the trial was part of the process of recovery and that it was important to share what she had been through. “Already a long time has passed in the minds of people. I think it’s important to share the consequences [for victims].”

Mettala stayed in hospital for four months and gave birth to a healthy daughter. She has been campaigning for her child to be recognised as a victim of the attack.

The trial, the most costly in Belgium’s history, was delayed by a few weeks after a judge ordered reworking of the glass box that will contain the accused. The defendants will sit together in one box rather than in separate cubicles, after the presiding judge decided that the original layout restricted their ability to communicate with their lawyers. – Guardian