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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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CRIME

Trial starts in France over 2016 Nice truck massacre

Eight suspects go on trial on Monday over the July 2016 attack in the Mediterranean city of Nice where a radical Islamist killed 86 people by driving a truck into thousands of locals and tourists celebrating France's Fête nationale.

Trial starts in France over 2016 Nice truck massacre

The attacker Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, was shot dead by  police following the more than four-minute rampage when he zig-zagged down the  seaside embankment of the Promenade des Anglais, destroying lives in his wake.

The seven men and one woman who will go on trial in Paris are accused of crimes from being aware of his intentions to providing logistical support and supplying weapons.

Only one suspect, Ramzi Kevin Arefa, faces the maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted as a recurring offender. The others risk between five and 20 years in prison.

The trial, which is due to last until mid-December, is the latest legal process over the Islamist attacks that have hit France since 2015.

A Paris court on June 29th convicted all 20 suspects in the trial over the November 2015 attacks in the French capital which left 130 dead.

The extremist Islamic State (IS) group rapidly claimed the Nice attack, although French investigators did not find any links between the attacker and the jihadist organisation which at the time controlled swathes of Iraq and Syria.

While Lahouaiej-Bouhlel cannot now be brought to justice, the trial – as in the November 2015 case – marks a hugely important moment for survivors and relatives of the victims.

“It is better not to expect much from it so as not to be disappointed.

“Above all, we want a good trial, for everyone,” said Bruno Razafitrimo, who lost his wife Mino in the tragedy and is now bringing up their two young sons alone.

Of the accused, three suspects are charged with association in a terrorist conspiracy and the five others with association in a criminal conspiracy and violating arms laws.

The attack was the second most deadly post-war atrocity on French soil after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Six years after the attack “the fact that the sole perpetrator is not there will create frustration. There will be many questions that no one will be able to answer,” said Eric Morain, lawyer for a victims’ association which is taking part in the trial.

“We are trying to prepare them for the fact that the sentences may not be commensurate with their suffering,” said Antoine Casubolo-Ferro, another lawyer for the victims.

Of the accused, seven will appear in court with one suspect, Brahim Tritrou, tried in absentia, after fleeing judicial supervision to Tunisia where he is now believed to be under arrest.

Just three of the accused are currently under arrest with one held in connection with another case. The defendants are a mix of Tunisians, French-Tunisians and also Albanians.

The trial will take place within the historic Palais de Justice in central Paris in the same purpose-built courthouse that hosted the November 2015 attacks hearings.

Some 30,000 people gathered on the seafront to watch a fireworks display celebrating France’s annual July 14th national day when Lahouaiej-Bouhlel began his murderous rampage.

The attack left permanent scars on the city of Nice, a byword for urban seaside glamour on France’s Cote d’Azur but which like the neighbouring Mediterranean cities of Toulon and Marseille has seen rising immigration and social tension.

Nice was struck again in October 2020 when a Tunisian Islamist radical stabbed to death three people in a church.

Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said: “This wound will never heal, whatever the outcome of the trial. This wound is too deep.”

According to French and Tunisian press reports, the body of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was in 2017 repatriated to Tunisia and buried in his home town of M’saken, south of Tunis. This has never been confirmed by the Tunisian authorities.

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