Brussels terror trial: What to expect from the first phase

Brussels terror trial: What to expect from the first phase
Illustration of Salah Abdeslam during trial. Credit: Belga

The trial of the March 2016 Brussels terrorists begins in earnest this Monday, with ten suspects standing trial for the attacks that killed 32 people and injured over 300 people at the Maelbeek metro station and at Zaventem airport.

The testimonies of the defendants on trial won't be heard this week, La Libre reports. Instead, day 1 of the trial will focus on identifying the parties and the court's chairperson explaining proceedings to the jurors. This is largely a formal process in which the defendants confirm personal information including their name, date and place of birth.

Civil parties at the trial will also have to confirm their own personal information. The Court's chairperson will then explain to the jurors what is expected of them and how they will work.

Emergency workers outside Brussels Airport in the aftermath of the 22 March 2016 terrorist attacks. Credit: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Belga

On Tuesday, two federal prosecutors will start reading the indictment of the trial, detailing the chronology of events and the subsequent investigation. This process will continue on Wednesday and Thursday, given that the document is 469 pages long.

Due to a European summit which will require police resources, next week will see only two days of hearings, on 12 and 13 December. These will be dedicated to filing possible pleas from the defence, such as challenges to the indictment, as well as new issues raised by civil parties.

Defendants to take the stand

Questioning of the nine defendants who will be present – the tenth, Osama Atar, is believed to be dead – will not begin until the third week of the trial, starting Monday 19 December.

The interrogations of Mohamed Abrini and Osama Krayem, who at the last minute decided against blowing themselves up in Zaventem and Maelbeek, are highly anticipated. Yet how much they are willing to cooperate is unclear after Krayem on Wednesday refused to stand up and confirm his place and date of birth last Wednesday when the jury was formed.

The process will be paused during Christmas and New Year and will resume on Friday 13 January. On 16 January, the trial will begin a new phase with the hearings of witnesses who will provide context to events.

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The court will hear the testimonies of experts in political sociology, Sunni Islam and Syria Professor Thomas Pierret (Université Libre de Bruxelles). Professor Philippe van Meerbeeck ( UCLouvain), a psychiatrist who has focused on the psychology of young suicide bombers, will then give testimony.

After which criminologists Fabienne Brion (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and Corinne Torrekens (Université Libre de Bruxelles) will speak, followed by three doctors who will account for the trauma of the victims.

On 17 January, the court will consider the Zaventeem aspect of the trial with the people in charge of the emergency plans in Brussels. On 18 January, the relatives of the victims who died at the airport as well as civil parties will testify in court until Wednesday 25 January.

The court will proceed to examine the attack in Maelbeek until Thursday 2 February. The trial begins on Monday in the former NATO headquarters in Brussels.

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