2016 Brussels attacks trial: Abrini threatens not to speak due to transfer conditions

The trial of the 2016 Brussels terrorists began in earnest on Monday around 10 am, with ten suspects standing trial for the attacks that killed 32 people and injured over 300 people. On the first day of the trial, defendant Mohamed Abrini threatened to remain silent for the entire trial in protest against the conditions of his transfer from prison to the courthouse.

In the morning, the presiding judge reminded the jury that they should not be guided by revenge in forming their verdict. When Abrini took the floor a little later, he referred to the presiding judge's words saying he had been "undergoing your revenge for seven years". 

Abrini alleges being "humiliated" at every prisoner transport by having to undress, being blindfolded and having to listen to "satanic music". "I will not say anything until the end of the trial if things continue like this," said Abrini, who argues that his transport conditions are "not normal" and claims that he was "treated with respect" during the 2015 Paris attacks trial held earlier this year in France.

Laurence Massart, the presiding judge of the Assize Court, responded that she had seen a letter from Salah Abdeslam's lawyer Delphine Paci that also raised objections to detention and transfer conditions. The letter was addressed to the justice and interior ministers and the public prosecutor's office, with the presiding judge in copy. 

The presiding judge and the prosecution stated that detention and transfer conditions were not within their powers. The federal prosecutor explained that the conditions were decided based on an administrative evaluation that considered the safety of the detainees, their loved ones and the police themselves. 

Jonathan De Taye, the lawyer of defendant Ali El Haddad Asufi, joined Abrini. According to De Taye, his client has also been mistreated during detention and transport, despite properly cooperating for years. "This is not about blackmail," De Taye said regarding Paci's letter. "If the trial went well in France, it was because the authorities treated them well."

Given these conditions, De Taye stated that he would send a letter of formal notice to Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne and Belgian Home Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden on Monday. If they fail to respond, the lawyer intends to file an interim injunction and will ask for proceedings to be suspended in the meantime. However, the presiding judge shut down the debate and would not comment on the issue until conclusions were laid down. 



Defendant Mohamed Abrini during the first day of the 2016 Brussels attacks trial on 5 December 2022 at the Justitia site in Haren, Brussels © BELGA PHOTO POOL BENOIT DOPPAGNE

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