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TERRORISM

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

Paris attacks suspect says he changed his mind at last moment

The last surviving suspected assailant in the deadly 2015 Paris attacks has told a court that he was sent to a café in the 18th arrondissement of the city, but at the last minute changed his mind about going through with the attack.

Paris attacks suspect says he changed his mind at last moment

“The objective I was given was to go to a café in the 18th” district in northern Paris, Salah Abdeslam told the special Paris court hearing the case. “I’m going into the café, I’m ordering a drink, I’m looking at the people around me – and I said to myself: ‘No, I’m not going to do it’.”

For the plaintiffs in the case, including the loved ones of victims of the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people, this was testimony they had been waiting months to hear.

Abdeslam, 32, said he was told about plans for the attack in Paris on November 11th, two days before they were carried out.

That happened at a meeting in Charleroi, Belgium, with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is accused of having masterminded the attacks.

Until then, said Abdeslam, he thought he was going to be sent to Syria. Instead, he was told he had been chosen to carry out an attack using an explosive belt.

“It was a shock for me, but he ended up by convincing me,” he said.

“I ended up accepting and saying, ‘Okay, I’ll go ahead with it’.”

But at that meeting, he was given no details about the targets for the attack.

When he ultimately did not go through with the attack, he told the court how he took his car and drove around Paris at random until it broke down.

Then he got out and walked, he said, saying his memories of that period were “confused”.

Pressed by the president of the court Jean-Louis Peries, he said only that he knew what he had been supposed to do.

“My brother, he had a belt, a Kalashnikov, I know he’s going to open fire, I know he’s going to blow himself up, but I didn’t know the targets.”

The attackers killed 130 people in suicide bombings and shootings at the Stade de France stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and on street terraces of bars and restaurants on November 13th, 2015, in France’s worst peacetime atrocity.

Abdeslam’s older brother Brahim opened fire on a cafe terrace before blowing himself up.

Earlier in court another defendant, Mohamed Abrini, said Abdeslam simply had not had the nerve to go through with the attack.

Abrini, who is accused of having provided weapons and logistical support to the attackers, said he had seen Abdeslam when he turned up at a safe house a day after the attacks.

“He was exhausted, tired, he looked pale,” said Abrini.

One of the organisers of the attacks had yelled at him for not having blown himself up.

“I think he told them that his belt hadn’t worked,” said Abrini.

Abdeslam told the court last month that in fact he had been lying about the malfunction.

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

Alongside Abdeslam, co-defendants are answering charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks, as well as supplying weapons.

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