Dutch court acquits Paris and Brussels attacks suspect

A Rotterdam court on Wednesday acquitted 33-year-old Annas A. from Amsterdam for his possible role in the 2015 Paris attacks and 2016 Brussels attacks. A. is the nephew of Ali El Haddad Asufi, one of the defendants in the ongoing trial over the 2016 Brussels terror attacks. A. was suspected of brokering the supply of weapons used in the Paris and Brussels attacks, but the evidence against him was found to be insufficiently convincing.

It quickly became clear that an acquittal was in the offing at the short hearing. The prosecution had previously informed the Dutch court and the defence that the prosecutor would ask for an acquittal, and the court promptly ruled accordingly.

A. was suspected of giving or helping to give the attackers information about where to buy weapons in Rotterdam at the end of 2015. However, this suspicion was only based on a statement that the weapons used came from the Netherlands. This evidence was not sufficient for the prosecution, according to the public prosecutor.

What is known is that A. sent WhatsApp messages to his Belgian cousin Ali El Haddad Asufi, who is accused of supplying weapons to the terrorist cell that carried out the attacks. In these messages, they discussed three "clios" and A. allegedly provided his cousin with an address and phone number for the exchange. 

It is clear to the prosecution that they were not talking about the cars of the same name. According to El Haddad Asufi and his cousin, they were talking about drugs, but the Paris court believed they were talking about weapons. The Rotterdam court, however, said there was no evidence that they were discussing the assault rifles used by the attackers in Paris and Brussels, or that an arms dealer was operating at the address at the time.

A. has not been in custody since June 2019 and was not present in court. El Haddad Asufi was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Paris last year for his involvement in the terrorist organisation held responsible for the Paris attacks. He is also currently on trial in Belgium for his role in the 2016 Brussels attacks. 

Belgian prosecutors and investigating judges agree with the Paris court's conclusions that El Haddad Asufi and his cousin were indeed talking about weapons, not drugs. In Paris, El Haddad Asufi was convicted of searching for weapons, not of buying or supplying them.

The weapons not used in the Paris attacks were never recovered. Bilal El Makhoukhi, a defendant in the Brussels attacks trial, admitted last year that he had collected the Belgian terror cell's weapons after the attacks and "moved them from box to box". Two pistols were found near the bodies of the Brussels airport suicide bombers Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui. According to the prosecution, Ali El Haddad Asufi allegedly provided these weapons. The defendant denies any involvement.


People gather for a tribute to the victims of the 2016 Brussels terror attacks in front of the Brussels Bourse on 22 March 2016 © BELGA PHOTO AURORE BELOT

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