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Belgium trial for alleged accomplices of 2015 Paris attacks

Fourteen people charged as accomplices to jihadists who carried out deadly bomb and gun attacks in Paris in 2015 will go on trial in Belgium from Tuesday.

French policemen stand in front of
French policemen stand in front of "Le Bataclan" concert hall during a ceremony to pay tribute to the victims of the terror attacks of November 13, 2015 in which 130 people were killed, on November 13, 2021 in Paris. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / POOL / AFP)

Proceedings will take place under high security in NATO’s former headquarters and are expected to last until May 20, with a verdict likely to take several more weeks.

They are happening in parallel with a trial in Paris of 20 suspects charged in France, which opened in September and is expected to run until the end of June.

The November 2015 Paris attacks saw 130 people killed, with the Islamic State group claiming responsibility.

Assailants set off suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium, as a group of gunmen in a car cut down people outside restaurants and bars. Three jihadists then killed 90 people attending a performance at the popular
Bataclan music venue.

Part of the attack was planned in Belgium, according to prosecutors.

The 14 accused in the Belgian trial — 13 men and one woman — are suspected of transporting, housing or financially helping some of the perpetrators of the attacks.

Charges include driving an alleged attacker to the airport for a trip to Syria.

Some of the suspects are close to Salah Abdeslam, a 32-year-old French national who is the only surviving suspected assailant after failing to set off his bomb belt. Abdeslam is on trial in Paris where on Friday he apologised to the victims at the end of his testimony.

Apology to ‘all victims’
His comments marked a dramatic end to three days of testimony: in the initial stages of the trial he had maintained a rigid silence apart from occasional outbursts against the court.

“I wish to express my condolences and offer an apology to all the victims,” Abdeslam told the court in a sometimes tearful statement.

 “I know that hatred remains… I ask you today that you hate me with moderation,” he said, adding: “I ask you to forgive me.”

Abdeslam, the main trial suspect after the other jihadists were all killed during or in the wake of the attacks, has said he had planned to blow himself up in a crowded bar but stopped after seeing the people whom he was about to kill.

 If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Prosecutors allege that the suspects to be tried in Belgium had knowledge of the jihadist group’s intentions, or helped Abdeslam — who was living in the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek — go to ground in the four months following the attacks that he was a fugitive.

After surviving the attack, Abdeslam fled to the Molenbeek district where he grew up but was captured in March 2016.

Two tried in absentia
One of the suspects in the Belgian trial is Abid Aberkane, Abdeslam’s cousin who lived nearby him in Molenbeek. He is charged with hiding Abdeslam at his mother’s house in the days before his March 2016 arrest.

Others are friends of the attacks’ mastermind, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, or of two brothers who were suicide bombers during later attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016 that killed 32 people.

Another is Ibrahim Abrini, brother of Mohamed Abrini, an alleged assailant who decided not blow himself up during the part of the 2016 attack in Brussels’ airport.

Ibrahim Abrini is suspected of helping his brother get to Syria in June 2015, by buying him a phone.

Two of the 14 suspects charged will be tried in absentia. The two, both Belgians, are thought to have died in Syria.

They are Sammy Djedou, whose death was announced by the Pentagon in December 2016, and Youssef Bazarouj, linked to the Islamic State group’s external operations cell and who is believed to have been killed in combat.

Djedou, born to an Ivorian father, went to fight in Syria in October 2012.

He is the only one in the trial to be described by prosecutors as a leader of a “terrorist group”.

Most of the suspects are charged with “participating in the activities of a terrorist group”, which carries punishment of up to five years in prison.

Two are to be tried on linked charges: one for allegedly violating laws on guns and explosives, and the other — the only woman on trial — for allegedly providing false identity documents to the assailants in Paris and Brussels.

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‘Odious attack’: Paris gunman ‘clearly targeted foreigners’, French minister says

A 69-year-old gunman who opened fire at a Kurdish cultural centre and a hairdressing salon in Paris on Friday was deliberately seeking out foreigners, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. The French PM described the shooting as an "odious attack".

'Odious attack': Paris gunman 'clearly targeted foreigners', French minister says

The gunman, a retired train driver, “was clearly targeting foreigners”, Darmanin told reporters, adding however that it was “not certain” that the man was aiming to kill “Kurds in particular”.

Darmanin said: “We yet don’t know his exact motives.”

There was also no information so far on links of the suspect with ultra-right activists, he said.

The man is a member of a shooting sports club “and has several registered weapons”, the minister said.

The Kurdish community centre, called Centre Ahmet Kaya, is used by a charity that organises concerts and exhibitions, and helps the Kurdish diaspora in the Paris region.

Protestors clashes with French riot police officers following a statement by French Interior Minister at the site where several shots were fired along rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement, in Paris on December 23, 2022. – Three people were killed and three injured in a shooting along rue d’Enghien in central Paris on December 23, 2022, police and prosecutors said, adding that the shooter, in his 60s, had been arrested. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)
 

TOPSHOT – Protestors clashes with French riot police officers following a statement by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (unseen) at the site where several shots were fired along rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement, in Paris on December 23, 2022. – Three people were killed and three injured in a shooting in central Paris on December 23, 2022, police and prosecutors said, adding that the shooter, in his 60s, had been arrested. The motives of the gunman remain unclear, with two of the four injured left in a serious condition, the French officials said. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

The gunman was described by police sources as “Caucasian”, of French nationality, and was linked to two previous attempted murders in 2016 and 2021.

 “The Kurds in France have been the target of an odious attack in the heart of Paris,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.

Far-right attack?

The gunman, named as William M. in the French media, had already been linked to two previous attempted murders in 2016 and 2021.

The retired train driver was initially convicted over the first case in the multicultural Seine-Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, but freed on appeal, Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau told reporters without giving further details.

In the second case, he was charged with racist violence after allegedly attacking migrants sleeping in tents in the Bercy area of the city in December 2021, Beccuau added.

At least two migrants were stabbed, a police source told AFP at the time.

“As for a racist motive for this case, this will obviously form part of our investigations which are starting now,” she said.

The shooter was released on bail recently and suffered facial injuries on Friday, requiring hospital treatment.

Authorities are likely to face questions in the coming days over why the gunman had been recently released on bail given his criminal record.

He suffered facial injuries on Friday and had been taken to hospital for treatment.

France’s specialised anti-terror prosecutor’s office has not taken over the case so far, indicating that the triple murder is being treated as regular violent crime at this stage.

The far right seems to have struck again. With deadly consequences,” senior left-wing MP Clementine Autain wrote on Twitter. “When will those at the head of the state take this terrorist threat seriously?”

But the Kurdish Democratic Council of France (CDK-F), which uses the cultural centre as its headquarters, said in a statement that it considered the shooting to be a “terror attack”.

Asked whether any of the victims in Friday’s shooting had links to the Kurdish PKK movement, designated a terrorist organisation by the EU and others, Darmanin said they appeared not to have been known to France’s security services.

Some members of the Kurdish centre could be seen weeping and hugging each other for comfort after the attack.

“It’s starting again. You aren’t protecting us. We’re being killed!” one of them cried to nearby police.

Darmanin said he had ordered tighter security at Kurdish meeting places in France, as well at Turkish diplomatic offices.

Officials were to meet to evaluate the likelihood of any further threats to the Kurdish community in Paris or elsewhere in France, he said.

Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne called the shooting an “odious attack” and sent her “full support to the victims and their loved ones.”

Following the shooting there were clashes between protesters and police near the scene. Kurdish groups have also called for a demonstration at Place de la Republique on Saturday.

Demonstrators threw objects at police while voicing fury over an attack they saw as deliberate and which French security services had done too little to prevent.

Several cars parked in the area as well as police vehicles had their windows smashed as protesters threw bricks.

French riot police officers run to disperse protestors during a clash following a statement by French Interior Minister at the site where several shots were fired along rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement, in Paris on December 23, 2022. – Three people were killed and three injured in a shooting in central Paris on December 23, 2022, police and prosecutors said, adding that the shooter, in his 60s, had been arrested. The motives of the gunman remain unclear, with two of the four injured left in a serious condition, the French officials said. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

Protestors clashes with French riot police officers following a statement by French Interior Minister at the site where several shots were fired along rue d’Enghien in the 10th arrondissement, in Paris on December 23, 2022. – Three people were killed and three injured in a shooting in central Paris on December 23, 2022, police and prosecutors said, adding that the shooter, in his 60s, had been arrested. The motives of the gunman remain unclear, with two of the four injured left in a serious condition, the French officials said. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

Kurds in France

Interior Minister Darmanin has previously warned of the threat of far right groups in France.

In one of several cases in recent years, 13 people from far-right political circles were ordered to stand trial last month for allegedly plotting to attack President Emmanuel Macron.Some members of the Kurdish centre could be seen weeping and hugging each
other for comfort after the attack.

“It’s starting again. You aren’t protecting us. We’re being killed!” one of them cried to nearby police.

Often described as the world’s largest people without a state, the Kurds are a Muslim ethnic group spread across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

The Kurdish Democratic Council of France underlined that the shooting coincided with the 10th anniversary of the murder of three female Kurdish militants in Paris.

A Turkish man was charged with the assassinations on January 9, 2013, but he died in custody before being tried.

The victims’ families have long pointed the finger at Turkey for masterminding the deaths of the three women, who were shot in the head and neck, and at France for failing to investigate properly.

“The Kurdish Democratic Council of France condemns in the strongest possible terms this vile terrorist attack which occurred following multiples threats from Turkey, an ally of Daesh,” it said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State terror group.

Turkey launches regular military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a designated terrorist group by the European Union and the United States — as well as Kurdish groups it accuses of being allies.

The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

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