Belgium has launched its biggest-ever criminal trial, a landmark prosecution of people accused of directing or aiding 2016 bombings in Brussels‘ metro and airport that killed 32 people.
The prime French suspect in the dock on Wednesday confirmed his identity as proceedings began: “Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic.”
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Salah gained notoriety after being convicted in a separate trial in France for his role in the 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
Only one of the nine defendants present, 30-year-old Osama Krayem, refused to stand as they were presented to the high-security court, a purpose-built space in the disused former headquarters of the NATO alliance.
A 10th suspect, 33-year-old Oussama Atar, is believed to have been killed in Syria.
Wednesday’s hearing kicked off a selection for the jury drawn from a huge poll of more than 1,000 citizens.
The court was to choose 12 jurors and 24 potential replacements who will need to attend near-daily sessions of a months-long process leading into the next year.
On December 5, the main evidential hearings will begin.
The November 13, 2015 Paris attacks and the March 22, 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels were claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium-based cell, which includes Abdeslam.
The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France, but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18.
Four days later, on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city centre metro station near the headquarters of the European Union.
Alongside those killed, hundreds of travellers and transport staff were maimed and six years on many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatised.
Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock in Belgium have already been convicted in the French trial, including Abdeslam. He is serving life without parole in France and faces a further sentence in Belgium.