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Several Belgians stand trial in Paris as terrorist attack proceedings start

16:00 08/09/2021

The biggest trial in French history began today in Paris. Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini – both known for their part in the Brussels terrorist attacks of March 2016 – join other men from Brussels on trial for the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015.

The massive trial, which is expected to last at least eight months and be followed around the world, will recount the events of 13 November 2015. On that night, IS sympathisers, mostly from France and Belgium, carried out shootings and suicide bombings in Paris that killed 130 people.

The only survivor of the active attackers is Salah Abdeslam, a French national who lived in Brussels. He will stand trial along with 13 others who are charged with aiding and abetting the attacks. Six of them are Belgian and two besides Abdeslam were not Belgian but lived in Brussels.

One of the Belgians is Mohamed Abrini – known locally as ‘the man with the hat’ – the surviving bomber of the attack on Brussels Airport in March 2016. There are five other accomplices wanted in France for their part in the attacks whose whereabouts are unknown. One of them is Belgian but is thought to have died in Syria. A sixth, also Belgian, is in custody in Turkey, which refuses to extradite him to France. All six of them are also being tried in abstentia.

330 lawyers, 1,800 plaintiffs

Nine other attackers or accomplices are dead, either by suicide bomb or shot by police in the aftermath of the attacks. One of them was French but grew up in Brussels; two others were Belgian, including Abdelhamid Abbaaoud, considered the head of the terrorist cell in Brussels.

Belgian lawyers and prosecutors are in Paris to assist the process. Several of the Belgians on trial have secured Belgian lawyers to defend them.

Involved in the trial are 20 suspects (14 present), 330 lawyers, 1,800 civil parties claiming damages and hundreds of journalists. It will be held according to regulations for terrorist trials in France, which means a five-member jury made up of judges specialised in terrorism.

Abdeslam is charged with murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context as well as being a member of a terrorist group. The other face other terrorist-related charges.

From a Belgian point of view, the entire case is a preview of what is to come, probably by next year, when some of the same suspects stand trial here for the 2 March 2016 terrorist attacks on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station. It will also be the largest trial in Belgian history. Hearings for that case began earlier this year.

Photos: Paris authorities built a new seating hall for 550 people inside the historical Justice Palace to accommodate the number of plaintiffs involved in the trial
©Courtesy VRT


Written by Lisa Bradshaw