A few days of the proceedings have now passed in the largest and most expensive criminal trial that Belgium has ever experienced. The charges are 32 counts of murder, 687 attempted murders and membership of a terrorist organization. Ten men have to answer for the 2016 attacks in the Belgian capital of Brussels, and almost 400 witnesses have to be questioned. Almost a thousand joint plaintiffs take part, and the court meets – for reasons of space and security – in the former NATO headquarters. As reported by Belgian newspapers, citing documents from the Ministry of Justice, the costs of the trial amount to at least 35 million euros – which is mainly due to the renovations in the former NATO building.
The alleged head of the group has been charged but has in all likelihood been dead for several years. Oussama Atar was killed in a 2017 US airstrike on members of the “Islamic State” (IS) in Syria. Because his death was never officially confirmed, he was charged anyway – as was the case in the Paris trial of the November 13, 2015 attacks. In both cases he is said to have planned the attacks and selected the suicide bombers. That explains why five other defendants were involved here and there and why they were sentenced to prison in France at the end of June last year. The Belgian judiciary first had to wait for these verdicts before the accused were handed over to them for the Brussels trial. In the next few months, the Brussels court will have to fight against the impression that it is only pursuing a secondary exploitation. At the trial in Paris, Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the ten-strong death squad, willingly accepted the leading role. When asked about his job there, he replied: “I gave up all my jobs to become a fighter for the Islamic State.” In Brussels, he answered the same question: “Electric mechanic.”
The story of the Brussels attacks begins on the morning of November 14, 2015 with the return of Salah Abdeslam from Paris. Nine assassins lost their lives in the attacks last night, including his brother Brahim. For whatever reason, he himself has taken off his explosive belt and is now being picked up in a car by two friends from Brussels. The three are stuck in a traffic jam at the border crossing. A Belgian radio reporter interviews them. Abdeslam says: These police checks are a bit exaggerated. The police let him pass, his name is not yet on the wanted lists. In Brussels he hid with another perpetrator.
In hiding, Abdeslam joins the rest of the cell and new attacks are discussed. They talk about the port of Antwerp, about kindergardens, about the kidnapping of a general to free two Brussels comrades-in-arms from prison. In the end, they decide to attack France again, their nemesis because of the air strikes against IS. Their goal is the opening ceremony of the European Football Championship on June 10, 2016. The explosives experts among them begin to mix hundreds of kilos of explosives, acetone peroxide, they call the substance: “Mère de Satan”, the devil’s mother. But the manhunt for Salah Abdeslam thwarts their plans. On March 15, he escaped from the police in a wild shootout in the Forest district of Brussels, and on March 18 the police tracked him down in a basement apartment in Molenbeek. The rest of the group fears discovery, they no longer have any hiding places, they want to strike out as quickly as possible, now in Brussels after all. And so, on the morning of March 22, 2016, they set off, laden with explosives.
So five men went out to kill themselves and as many other people as possible. Three of them went to Brussels airport. In their suitcases were self-made explosive devices with nails. At 7:58 a.m. the first bomb explodes at the Delta Airlines counter. Adelma Patia Ruiz, André Adam, Stephanie Shults, Justin Shults, Bruce Baldwin, Bart Migom, Rosario Valke, Jennifer Scintu Waetzmann, Elita Weah, Sascha Pinczowski, Alexander Pinczowski die. Eleven seconds later, at the Brussels Airlines counter, the second explosion: it kills Berit Viktorsson, Nic Coopman, Fabienne Vansteenkiste, Jingquan Deng, Gail Minglana Martinez.
The second terrorist group consisted of two people. They carried backpacks with nail bombs. Both men wanted to take line 5 to Maelbeek station and blow themselves up there. However, one of them mistakenly drove in the wrong direction at first, he changed cars, but did not detonate his explosive device, out of “morons of conscience”, as he testified. The other perpetrator, on the other hand, killed 16 people a good hour after the explosion at the airport. At 9.11 a.m. the bomb detonated on the Maelbeek metro, the dead bear the names of My Altegrim, Aline Bastin, Yves Cibuabua, Mélanie Defize, Olivier Delespesse, David Dixon, Sabrina Esmael Fazal, Raghavendran Ganeshan, Léopold Hecht, Loubna Lafquiri, Gilles Laurent, Marie Lecaille, Janina Panasewicz, Patricia Rizzo, Lauriane Visart, and Johan Van Steen.
Four of the ten accused fought for IS in Syria, and the terrorists who committed the Metro attack were apparently sent back to Europe by the terrorist organization in order to carry out attacks there. They mingled with migrants in September 2015 and, disguised as refugees, made their way to Germany via Greece. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Has Belgium learned from the devastating suicide attacks of March 22, 2016? Yes, in principle, is the cynical answer, given that the process is expected to keep the Belgian public in suspense until the middle of this year. Most of the killers came from Brussels. Police and intelligence services knew that some of them sympathized with “Islamic State,” but no one pulled the strings together. For example, during one prison stay, one of the perpetrators was identified as a potential Islamist and included in a national database of potentially violent extremists. After release, those who are at risk are pursued by the state in two ways: by the police and secret services on the one hand, and by social workers on the other. There is also socio-therapeutic care for those at risk on a regional level. All of these authorities also took care of the terrorists, all of these authorities were networked with each other, theoretically.
Belgian security experts say the attention of the security apparatus has apparently waned. Only about a hundred “potentially violent extremists” are still recorded in the national database, only individuals, and there are apparently no indications of terrorist groups. Why can’t young Islamic men be integrated into society? Where does this hatred of the Belgian state come from?
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