Conflicts & War

Brussels bombings trial begins amid controversy over defendants’ glass boxes

Brussels, Sep 12 (EFE).- The trial of 10 men accused of involvement in terrorist attacks in Belgium’s capital that killed 32 civilians in March 2016 got under way on Monday with a preliminary hearing to discuss procedural matters.

Among the points addressed were controversial individual glass compartments in which the accused are to be held during the trial, which is not scheduled to get under way in earnest until jury selection on Oct. 10.

The defendants are accused in connection with three suicide bombings.

Shortly before 8 am on March 22, 2016, two bombings at the Brussels Airport’s departures hall left 16 dead and 100 injured.

Just over an hour later, at a spot only 200 meters (650 feet) from the headquarters of the European Commission, a third suicide bomber killed 16 people and injured a hundred others at the Maalbeek metro station.

On Monday, nine of the accused were in court for a preliminary hearing that lasted throughout the day.

Oussama Atar, who is suspected to have led the terrorist cell that carried out the attacks and whose whereabouts is unknown, is believed to have died in Syria.

Three of the remaining suspects are Salah Abdeslam, the lone survivor of the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris attacks that left 137 dead (including seven attackers) and injured at least 416, and Mohamed Abrini and Osama Krayem, who allegedly formed part of the two commandos that carried out the attacks in Brussels but backed out of blowing themselves up at the last minute.

Judge Laurence Massart asked each of the defendants at the start of the hearing if they wanted to follow the proceedings from the glass compartments.

Only three of the nine opted to stay: Bilal El Makhoukhi, Herve Bayingana Muhirwa and Ibrahim Farisi.

Upon leaving the courtroom to return to their cells, Abdeslam said of the installation of the glass boxes that the trial proceedings had begun unfairly.

Massart is to rule on the glass compartments on Friday.

Like Abdeslam, the defendants’ attorneys slammed the glass boxes, saying they would leave an instant impression of guilt in jurors’ minds and constitute inhumane treatment.

Sebastien Courtoy, attorney for a suspect named Smail Farisi, told reporters that if the glass compartments are not removed the accused will not appear in court.

“There were nine defendants initially at 9 am. A half-hour later there were only three. Next time there won’t be anyone,” he said.

Abdeslam’s defense attorney, Delphine Paci, said the glass compartments violate the European Convention on Human Rights and must be removed.

Prosecutors, for their part, gave legal arguments in favor of the glass boxes and said a massive police presence would be needed if they were to be removed.

Guillaume Lys, a lawyer for V-Europe, an association for victims of terrorism, said for his part that the boxes are in no way degrading or inhuman but acknowledged that they make it difficult for defendants to communicate with their attorneys and said they should be modified.

Six of the defendants in the Belgium trial were already convicted over the November 2015 Paris attacks.

The trial is expected to last between six and nine months at the former NATO headquarters on Brussels’ outskirts.

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