BRUSSELS – More than six years after the deadliest peacetime attack on Belgian soil, the trial of 10 men accused over the suicide bombings at Brussels airport and an underground metro station opened Monday amid high security.
The only survivor among the Islamic State extremists who in 2015 struck the Bataclan theater in Paris, city cafes and France’s national stadium, Salah Abdeslam, is among the accused. In all 32 people were killed in the March 22, 2016 Brussels attacks. Around 900 people were hurt or suffered mental trauma.
The 10 face charges including murder, attempted murder and membership of, or participation in, the activities of “a terrorist group” over the morning rush hour attacks at Belgium’s main airport and on a central commuter line. If convicted, some of them could be sentenced to terms of up to 30 years in prison.
Abdeslam, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole over the atrocities in Paris, was at the Brussels court on Monday but refused to take part, saying it was “unfair” that he should have to watch proceedings from inside a reinforced glass cubicle.
Sebastien Courtoy, a lawyer for another suspect, Smail Farisi, also complained about conditions. He said his client was “put on display like an animal in a cage. I want — I demand — to see the sick person who designed these cages to ask what kind of pleasure that person gets from this.”
For those who were hurt or lost loved ones, the trial will revive painful memories, but it also offers an opportunity for them to take a fresh step in their long recovery.
“It was a long wait for the victims, six years is very long. I think that on March 22, 2016, a very dark page started and the chapter is not finished today. But this is an important step for their recovery,” said Guillaume Lys, a lawyer for the V-Europe association representing the victims.
No images of the defendants in Monday’s trial proceedings were made public. Even a sketch artist who was allowed into the court room to work was advised not to release his drawings after the accused and their lawyers said they did not want the images published.
The hearing in what is one of the biggest jury trials ever held in Belgium was chiefly aimed at resolving technical and practical issues.
The court — located at the former headquarters of NATO on the outskirts of the Belgian capital — is due to sit again on Oct. 10 to pick a jury, with the trial proper starting on Oct. 13. More than 300 witnesses could be heard during the trial, which is expected to run for six to nine months.
Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.