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Brussels attacks | The debates open with a bang from Mohamed Abrini

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(Brussels) “We are humiliated! The proceedings at the trial of the 2016 jihadist attacks in Brussels opened on Monday with a first outburst from Mohamed Abrini, one of the main defendants, who threatened to remain silent if security conditions are not relaxed.

The Belgian-Moroccan known as “the man in the hat” – who gave up on March 22, 2016 to blow himself up at Brussels airport – asked to speak when the president assured that this trial should not be “a revenge of state”.

“It’s been seven years since I suffered revenge,” he said, judging “pitiful” the conditions of transfer to the courthouse, marked by strip searches, blindfolded and “satanic music thoroughly”.

“Things must change, otherwise I will remain silent until the end of the trial”, warned the one who had spoken at length in the French procedure of November 13.

On the morning of March 22, 2016, two jihadists blew themselves up in the departures hall of Brussels-Zaventem airport, and a third a good hour later in a metro station in the European district. Result: 32 dead and several hundred injured.


PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

These suicide attacks, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, were perpetrated by the jihadist cell already at the origin of the attacks of November 13, 2015 (130 dead in Paris and Saint-Denis).

Nine men are appearing at this trial, including Mohamed Abrini and the Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the November 13 commandos. A tenth is tried in absentia because he is presumed dead in Syria.

“Not worthy”

After the outcry aroused in September by a box that did not comply with European law (which delayed the trial by almost two months), the challenges of the defense were brought from the first hours of the debates on the drastic security conditions imposed on the seven defendants detained.

“Every morning we examine the folds of my client’s anus. Is this worthy? What will come out of my client’s anus? A revolver ? launched Jonathan De Taye, lawyer for Ali El Haddad Asufi.

He announced a formal notice from the Ministry of Justice in order to obtain the relaxation of the measures.

The atmosphere was much less electric after the midday suspension. The court proceeded for three hours to call hundreds of people – of various nationalities – who wish to obtain compensation for damage.

According to the Court of Appeal, there were 957 civil parties constituted before the start of the hearing. New constitutions will be able to intervene next week.

Only a few dozen of these civil parties were present on Monday. Among them, Sascha’s mother and Alexander Pinczowski, a sister and a brother in their twenties, killed at Zaventem airport from where they were to fly to New York.

After opening the debates in the early morning, the president of the court Laurence Massart engaged in a long educational exercise for the jurors – 12 incumbents and 22 alternates out of the 24 planned.

“We must be impartial”

“Our role is to decide, to decide. We must be impartial, ”explained the magistrate.

Despite the some “300 boxes” of minutes, the principle is the oral nature of the debates, insisted Mme Massard. “The whole investigation will come to life in front of you”.

Six of the ten defendants have already been convicted in the river trial which ended in June in France for the attacks of 13 November. Abdeslam and Abrini each received life sentences in Paris.

Before Abrini’s speech on Monday at midday, the attitude of one of his box neighbors, Osama Krayem, had already raised doubts about the participation of the accused.


PHOTO DIDIER LEBRUN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Defendants Osama Krayem (left) and Salah Abdeslam (right)

This Swedish jihadist of Syrian origin, who accompanied the bomber to the metro before turning back, again refused on Monday to stand up and answer questions when the call was made.

The proceedings, suspended around 4:15 p.m., are due to resume on Tuesday with the start of the reading of the indictment, scheduled for three days.

The defendants are supposed to be questioned from December 19, and the first testimonies of victims expected in mid-January.

The debates must last “until the end of June-beginning of July”, according to the president.



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