Brussels terror trial: One of the accused admits responsibility for attacks

Brussels terror trial: One of the accused admits responsibility for attacks
One of the accused, Sofien Ayari, during a session of the trial of the attacks. Credit: Belga / Laurie Dieffembacq

In the trial for the March 2016 terrorist attacks, one of the suspects admitted responsibility during the interrogation on Wednesday in the Brussels Court of Assizes.

The 10 defendants – one of whom is missing, and presumed dead in Syria – appeared in court to be cross-examined by Laurence Massart, the president of the court. As the session is taking place during Ramadan, they were not expected to stand the entire time.

Bilal El Makhoukhi was the first defendant to be questioned. During the interrogation, the chairperson asked if he confessed to the acts that led to the attacks at the Maelbeek Metro station and Brussels Airport, as well as participating in the activities of a terrorist group. El Makhoukhi answered in the affirmative three times, the Belga News Agency reports.

El Makhoukhi also testified about his time in Syria where he was injured in the fighting. After his return to Belgium, during which his leg was amputated, El Makhoukhi became depressed. "I wanted to go to Syria. If I had not been arrested, I would have been [there]," El Makhoukhi explained. He admitted that suicide bombers Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui had given him an itinerary.

When asked by the chairperson if he would not lie, the accused answered: "I am not going to lie. Of course, the overheard conversations in Bruges prison also had an impact. Otherwise, I might have continued to lie."

'Amine' still not discovered

Furthermore, Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa denied being the 'Amine' in the Brussels attacks – a fact he has denied since the beginning of the investigation. "I have no idea who Amine is, but it is not me," he stated once again. His then-lawyer suggested during interrogations that it could well be co-accused Salah Abdeslam or Sofien Ayari, but Bayingana Muhirwa rejected that, Belga reports.

During the cross-examination, Massart repeatedly confronted Bayingana Muhirwa with the contradictions of his previously normal life – apart from the unfortunate events during the Rwandan genocide during which his father was murdered and his family fled to Belgium – and the fact that he was now on trial for acts of terrorism.

"What you are doing here?" the court president asked after outlining his life. Bayingana Muhirwa explained that it was because of "circumstances that I regret". Further contradiction was brought to light as Muhirwa's profile outlines a person who wanted to good for others, which does not fit with the immense suffering caused by the actions on 22 March 2016.

To the point of the suffering of people, the accused acknowledged being "touched" by the testimonies and stated that the victims' testimonies "rang a bell" when he thought back to the genocide in Rwanda.

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Not all of the accused were present at the cross-examination on Wednesday. Osama Kraynem announced he would not participate and Salah Abdeslam was unsure of whether he would or not.

The others – Sofien Ayari, Ali El Haddad Asufi, Bilal El Makhoukhi, Smail and Ibrahim Farisi, and Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa – all confirmed that they would participate in the discussion. Osama Atar, who is believed to have died in Syria, is missing.

As the session is taking place during Ramadan, suspects are not expected to stand the entire time.

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