2016 Brussels attacks trial: Jury gradually delves into police investigation of bombing case
The Brussels assize court this Tuesday entered a new critical phase in the trial of the 22 March 2016 attacks. After seeing the images of the explosions, listening to the moving testimonies of the first responders and hearing the findings at the crime scene, the court began hearing from the investigating judges on the first elements of the investigation itself.
The three investigating judges in the attacks case began by giving some reference points for the attention of jurors in particular before explaining the numerous investigations that had been carried out.
They then recalled some elements of the Paris attacks, committed on 13 November 2015, including the three places where the attacks were committed, the names of the suicide bombers, the names of those convicted from the trial that ended last June and the sentences they received. Several convicts from the Paris bombings trial are also accused in this trial. They include Mohamed Abrini, Osama Krayem, Salah Abdeslam, Sofien Ayari and Ali El Haddad Asufi.
The investigators then talked about the various safe houses used by the terrorist cell responsible for the Paris and Brussels attacks. The aim, explained investigating judge Berta Bernardo-Mendez, was to give an overview of the use of the safe houses but also to get a picture of who was living with whom among the suicide bombers and suspects.
The court also gave the floor to investigating judge Patrick De Coster, who was appointed to investigate the Zaventem case before it was merged with the Maelbeek case. Commissioner Kris Meert, then attached to the federal judicial police in Brussels, was appointed head of the investigation. He arrived on the scene at 9.30 am while the evacuation of the injured was still in progress. He said one of his first actions was to set up a judicial command post to coordinate the investigation with members of the prosecutor's office and the police. Patrick De Coster and Kris Meert will testify further on Wednesday.
Before that, the court heard the latest investigation results about the Maelbeek metro station. An official from the DIV, the Disaster Victim Identification Service, which is part of the federal police, explained the methods used by his service to identify victims whose bodies were severely damaged. Thirteen bodies of victims were "recovered" at Maelbeek station. Two other victims died in the hospital, while another died in the front medical station.
The investigating judges then described each of the 16 victims who died in the underground attack based on information from their relatives. Most were on their way to work or school on 22 March. Among them were six young women between 29 and 34, three young men between 20 and 30, three women between 48 and 68 and four men between 45 and 58.
Two of the first responders also spoke emotionally about their arrival at the scene of the Maelbeek attack. "The most difficult moment for me, which I could never forget, was the woman I saw on the right when I stepped off the platform, who was lying burnt, covered in soot, and whose head I could not distinguish from her body," said an emotional police inspector. "I couldn't help her. She died, and she died alone. That image stays with me."
A volunteer firefighter who helped victims in Maelbeek when he was in the area was deeply affected by what he saw and could no longer work. "The person I was died that day," he said. He said he was "haunted" by the "appearance" of the victims he saw and by the smells, "of iron, ammonia, explosives, burnt meat and raw meat".
This drawing by Jonathan De Cesare shows a session of the trial of the attacks of March 22, 2016, at the Brussels-Capital Assizes Court, Tuesday 10 January 2023 at the Justitia site in Haren, Brussels. On March 22 2016, 32 people were killed and 324 got injured in suicide bombings at Zaventem national airport and Maalbeek/ Maelbeek metro station, which were claimed by ISIL.
© BELGA PHOTO Jonathan De Cesare