2016 Brussels attacks: Prosecution asks jury to impose harsh sentences

After a break following verdicts on guilt in July, the trial over the Brussels attacks of 22 March 2016 resumed on Monday to consider sentencing. During the opening session, the prosecution called for "severe punishment for those who attacked our society as a whole with a terrorist motive".

The trial has been under way since December 2022 and entered its final phase on Monday. The court is expected to take two more weeks to deliberate and decide on sentencing

Ten men were originally on trial for the attacks on Brussels Airport and Maelbeek metro station, which left 35 people dead and around 340 injured. On 25 July, a 12-member jury acquitted two defendants of all charges

Setting an example

On Monday, the presiding judge gave the floor to federal prosecutors Bernard Michel and Paule Somers to start their closing arguments on sentencing. The prosecution asked the jury and the court to impose severe sentences on the eight convicted men, especially the six found guilty of murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context.

"I hope that this trial will set an example so that this will not happen again"

"I think it is only right to severely punish those who attacked our society as a whole with a terrorist motive," Somers said. "Punishment is necessary to express society's disapproval, both for society as a whole and for the victims. These victims live with the after-effects of their actions every day. They are the only true martyrs of these acts."

Somers referred to the fundamental rights of the right to life and respect for democracy and quoted a victim who said: "I hope that this trial will set an example so that this will not happen again." The prosecution then outlined the concrete sentences it considered appropriate for Oussama Atar and Soufien Ayari. 

Atar and Ayari

For Atar, who was found guilty in absentia of murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context and of leading a terrorist group, the prosecution asked for a life sentence and an additional 15 years of supervision by the sentencing court. 

The prosecution also asked that Atar be stripped of his civil rights, banned from voting and stripped of his Belgian nationality. Somers described him as a particularly dangerous man who had betrayed his country. Atar is believed to have been killed in a US drone strike in the Syria-Iraq region in 2017, but his body has never been recovered.

The prosecution appears to be trying to avoid a strange legal quirk that would result in a reduced overall sentence for Ayari

For Ayari, who was found guilty only of membership of a terrorist group, the prosecution surprisingly argued that there was no reason to impose an additional sentence on top of the 20 years he had received previously for a shooting in the Forest neighbourhood of Brussels in 2016. In doing so, the prosecution appears to be trying to avoid a strange legal quirk that would result in a reduced overall sentence for Ayari. 

If Ayari were to be sentenced for his role in the 2016 Brussels attacks, that sentence would subsume his earlier 20-year sentence for the Forest shooting. Since Ayari cannot be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for membership of a terrorist group, this would mean his actual prison term would be reduced by at least 10 years.

Next stages

The prosecution's closing arguments will resume on Tuesday morning. The lawyers for the eight men found guilty will also take the floor to present any mitigating circumstances on behalf of their clients. They will talk about their backgrounds, personalities, prospects, any regrets or responsibilities they may have, and any chances they have of reintegrating into society.

The guilty parties will then have a final opportunity to speak, after which the jury will begin deliberations with the presiding judge and her two assistant judges.



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