Belgian 'al-Qaeda cell' trial opens
Nine suspects face 10 years in jail for alleged membership of a "terrorist" group.
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2010 15:51 GMT
The suspects were arrested a few days ahead of a European Union summit in the Brussels [AFP]

Nine alleged members of an al-Qaeda cell suspected of planning "terrorist" attacks and recruiting Islamist fighters have gone on trial in Brussels.

The case comes 15 months after dramatic raids in Liege and the Belgian capital when police detained several people ahead of what the security services feared was an imminent attack.

The arrests, in December 2008, came a few days ahead of a European Union summit in the Belgian capital.

While no details of an imminent attack or explosives were uncovered, the accused face a possible 10 years in jail for their alleged membership of a "terrorist" group.

'Empty' case

Seven of the suspects appeared in court, while two others, who are still on the run, will be judged in absentia.

The central figure in the trial is Malika El Aroud, a 50-year-old Belgian-Moroccan.

Aroud is the widow of Abdessatar Daman, one of two men suspected of killing Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Northern Alliance commander in Afghanistan.

Massoud died in a suicide bomb explosion, two days before the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States.

According to Johan Delmulle, Belgium's federal prosecutor, Aroud led the recruitment of fighters in Belgium, sending young Muslims off to train on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

It is alleged they were sometimes escorted by her second husband, Moez Garsalloui, who is one of those being tried in absentia.

According to the prosecutor, Garsalloui had ties with "important" al-Qaeda figures.

Aroud has dismissed the prosecution case as "empty".

'Goodbye' video

The prosecution evidence includes a video made by Hicham Beyayo, another of the accused.

Delmulle said Beyayo had received the "green light to carry out an operation from which he wasn't expected to return," and in the video "had said goodbye to his loved ones".

Beyayo, 24, has denied intending to carry out a "terrorist" attack.

A probe into the suspects began in late 2007, following information gleaned during investigations into an escape plan made by Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian.

Trabelsi was serving a 10-year sentence in Belgium for planning an al-Qaeda attack in September 2001.

Under that plan, a truck bomb was to have targetted a military base housing US troops.

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