Key cross-examination phase of 2016 Brussels attacks trial ends


Brussels, Belgium: The cross-examination phase of a trial of ten individuals charged with taking part in the 2016 terrorist bombings in Brussels came to a close on Thursday with the majority of the defendants refusing to beg for pardon.

In response to the request made by a lawyer for the victims, a number of people insisted they were innocent and could not, therefore, apologise. Others who did so said they had not had prominent positions.

The suicide explosions on 22 March 2016, at the airport and the metro system of Brussels, resulted in 32 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. The Islamic State organisation took ownership.

The blasts occurred months after 130 people were killed in the Islamist attacks in Paris in November 2015. Investigators think the IS cell responsible for those assaults had ties to the one in Brussels.

“To ask for forgiveness is to admit guilt, and I’ve told you here that they weren’t my victims,” said Sala Abdeslam, a 33-year-old Frenchman who is the sole living member of the jihadist unit that carried out the Paris attacks.

Arrested in Brussels four days before the attacks in the Belgian capital, Abdeslam denied there was a link between the Paris and Brussels IS cells.

At the French trial that convicted and sentenced him to life behind bars for the Paris attacks, Abdeslam had tearfully pleaded for forgiveness.

A Tunisian arrested the same time as Abdeslam, Sofien Ayari, responded to the apology request by telling the court he hoped the victims “would be able to rebuild”.

“How can I not have regrets for certain choices, certain ways things were done?” he said. He has already been sentenced to 30 years in jail over the Paris attacks

A 38-year-old Belgian-Moroccan co-defendant, Mohamed Abrini, identified by prosecutors as one of the attackers in Brussels airport who apparently decided at the last minute not to set off his bomb, had already apologised in court a day earlier.

He said testimony from some of the surviving victims that they forgave him had “shaken” him. “I’d prefer to be slapped,” he said.

He, too, has received a life sentence for the Paris attacks, which he had also decided not to carry out, going instead to Brussels a day before they happened.

Samil Farisi, accused of giving shelter to several members of the Brussels IS cell, said: “I’m innocent. I’m not going to apologise. I’m sad but I had nothing to do with all that.”

Another suspect, Bilal El Makhoukhi, a 34-year-old Belgian-Moroccan former IS fighter, said he “wanted” to ask for forgiveness but said that had to come “spontaneously… not because you asked me the question”.

Nine of the defendants were in high-security Brussels detention over the course of the trial, being held inside the former NATO headquarters.

The 10th, Oussama Atar, considered to be the one who ordered the attacks in 2016, was being judged in absentia. He is believed to have been killed in terrain between Iraq and Syria.

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Key cross-examination phase of 2016 Brussels attacks trial ends
Key cross-examination phase of 2016 Brussels attacks trial ends
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