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Brussels defence lawyer goes for trial in prison break case

Saint-Gilles prison. © Wikimedia

A prominent Brussels defence lawyer has been committed for trial with six other defendants in the case of a 2014 failed jail-break from Saint-Gilles prison.

On the evening of 13 April 2014, four men arrived at the gates of the prison in Saint-Gilles claiming to be police officers, there to pick up the prisoner Mohamed Benabdelhak, a known drugs baron.

The staff of the prison refused to allow them entry, and the men left, returning later in a van which they used to try to break down the prison gates. Prison staff responded, and shots were fired. A nurse was taken hostage, but when even that did not help their attempt, they fled once more.

That led to a car chase across the streets of Brussels, which ended when the would-be jail-breakers started firing shots in the open, and police decided to abandon the chase and catch up with the criminals later.

It soon became clear the incident had been an attempt to free Benabdelhak from custody. The man himself was later in April that year extradited to France, where he was due to stand trial on drugs and other charges with a possible prison sentence of 10 years.

The prisoner had the same evening had a visit from his French lawyer, who was extradited and later released under conditions.

Now, the Brussels-based defence lawyer Olivier Martins, two accomplices and Benabdelhak himself, have been indicted for the escape attempt.

Under Belgian law, escaping from prison is not in itself a criminal offence. However other offences committed during the attempt can be prosecuted, for example hostage-taking. And anyone aiding and abetting an escape is fully open to prosecution.