March 2016 Terror Trial: Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa gradually became interested in radicalism after converting to Islam

March 2016 Terror Trial: Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa gradually became interested in radicalism after converting to Islam
Credit: Belga/Eric Lalmand

Defendant Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa gradually became interested in radicalism after converting to Islam in 2011, according to information presented by examining magistrates and investigators on Tuesday at the Brussels Assize Court, in charge of judging the attacks committed in the Belgian capital on 22 March 2016.

Muhirwa thus became involved in a network steeped in radicalism. Numerous computer files, including multiple 'nasheeds'- Muslim religious chants - belonging to him are also linked to al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS) group and jihadist propaganda.

Until his arrest on 8 April 2016, Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa, born on 5 May 1985, was unknown to the Belgian judicial authorities. He had no criminal record. On the other hand, he was reported in various administrative reports to have been checked in the company of several people known to be close to the jihadist milieu.

Muhirwa comes from a practising Catholic family but converted to Islam in 2011

One of his long-standing friends was co-accused Bilal El Makhoukhi. Some of his other associates also tried to cross into Syria and, according to notes of the State Security, others knew Najim Laachraoui, one of the two suicide bombers at Zaventem airport.

The Belgian-Rwandan comes from a practising Catholic family but eventually converted to Islam in March-April 2011. From 2014, he began to show interest in the Syrian conflict, and the Islamist propaganda associated with Al-Qaeda and the ISIS terrorist group.

However, Muhirwa claims never to have pledged allegiance to ISIS. Investigators doubt this as it is in contradiction with elements found on his computer, his smartphone and flash drives. The investigators discovered, in particular, a nasheed from ISIS in favour of religious war and speaking of allegiance.

A large number of nasheeds were found in different devices and flash drives belonging to the accused. Some of them were classic, others were jihadist in nature, emanating from ISIS. On his mobile phones, flash drives and computer, the investigators discovered a large quantity of information demonstrating a “pronounced and evolving” interest in jihad, ISIS, the Iraqi-Syrian conflict, Islamist propaganda and terrorist acts that occurred in Europe in the years preceding 22 March 2016.

Testimonies of victims and civil parties to begin on 6 March

During his 13 interrogations by the police, the accused gave fluctuating statements about certain members of the cell but always maintained that he was not “Amine.” This is a nickname that crops up in two audio messages of Najim Laachraoui, where it is mentioned that he was a “brother” who had joined the terror cell through the intermediary of co-accused Bilal El Makhoukhi.

After the presentation of Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa, investigators were scheduled to move on to the portrait of Ibrahim Farisi, who is accused of having cleaned, with his brother Smail, the “conspiratorial” flat in the Avenue des Casernes in Etterbeek. It was decided that the presentation of Sofien Ayari would not take place until Wednesday.

At the beginning of the hearing, the president of the court had also announced a slight adaptation of the schedule for the testimony. So as not to postpone the first testimonies of victims and civil parties several more times, she moved them automatically to Monday 6 March. A “white week” was inserted after the Carnival break (the week of 20 to 24 February) with testimonies from experts and background witnesses in case the question-and-answer session with the investigating judges and investigators had to be extended beyond Thursday 16 February.

Finally, it should be noted that defendant Mohamed Abrini, who was ill, was absent from the hearing on Tuesday and that, of the detained defendants present at the hearing, Osama Krayem and Salah Abdeslam, as usual, asked to return to solitary confinement.

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