The trial of the Brussels attacks experienced a new setback on Monday, with the postponement to Wednesday of the long-awaited interrogation of the accused.

“There will be no questioning of the defendants on Monday and no hearing on Tuesday”, due to the absence of one of the assessor judges, a spokesman for the federal prosecution told AFP. The hearing will resume on Wednesday morning.

The prosecution did not specify which would be the first defendants to be questioned. Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini hardly spoke in four months of hearings. They are among the occupants of the box whose speech will be scrutinized with the most attention.

The two men aged 33 and 38, childhood friends in the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek where they grew up, have already been sentenced to life imprisonment in 2022 for the attacks of November 13, 2015 in France.

Salah Abdeslam, arrested in Molenbeek on March 18, 2016, four days before the attacks, “strongly contests” his participation, his lawyer Delphine Paci said at the start of the trial.

The prosecution is of a completely different opinion. Certainly the Frenchman was imprisoned on March 22, but, she believes, he could not ignore that other attacks were preparing, when he shared for months in the Belgian capital the daily life of members of the jihadist cell already in the origin of 13-November.

“Of course, he knew (…) If you are in the hideouts, it is because you were planned for the attacks”, dropped during the investigation Mohamed Abrini about his friend.

On the morning of March 22, 2016, two jihadists blew themselves up in the departures hall of Brussels-Zaventem airport, and a third a good hour later in a metro station in the Belgian capital. Balance sheet: 32 dead and more than 340 injured.

Mohamed Abrini, the “man in the hat” pushing a luggage cart in Zaventem, was also supposed to set off a heavy explosive charge there, but he fled. “Panic”, according to his statements to investigators.

At this trial, the largest ever held before an Assize Court in Belgium, nine men must answer for their alleged participation in the attacks, claimed like those of November 13 by the Islamic State group.

A tenth suspect, presumed dead in Syria, is tried in his absence. The trial, which opened in early December, is expected to last until the summer.

The thesis of the investigation is that the arrest of Abdeslam precipitated this new passage to the act of the group, which initially planned to strike again in France, a priori during Euro-2016 football.

The word given to the accused could be an opportunity to obtain details on all the targets envisaged, notes lawyer Guillaume Lys, who defends the association of victims V-Europe.

“We know that this hope can be dashed, but we hope that the defendants will speak out after having been confronted with all this human suffering”, declared Me Lys to AFP in reference to the poignant testimonies of survivors and relatives of victims who took place throughout the month of March.

As for gray areas to be clarified, the lawyer cites the contents of a PC discovered in a hideout frequented by Abdeslam and his companion on the run and co-defendant Sofien Ayari.

The investigators recovered photos of a military barracks and a nursery school in Belgium, but also of potential French targets, in Lille or Lyon.

Asked by AFP, Stanislas Eskenazi, Abrini’s lawyer, simply admits that “the conditions are met to free speech”.

He refers to the recent abandonment by the police of strip searches with bent knees which were imposed on detained defendants before their transfer to the courtroom. This measure, justified on the authorities’ side for security reasons, poisoned the debates this winter.

Abdeslam deserted the box for several weeks in protest. Abrini, for his part, denounced the “hysteria” of the police, threatening to leave the hearing.

Deemed “humiliating” by the defense, these systematic searches gave rise to a trial in the trial, which finally resulted on March 13 in the conviction of the Belgian State by the Brussels Court of Appeal.

Scheduled over two weeks, the interrogations should be conducted “by theme” which means that each defendant will be invited to speak several times.

03/04/2023 12:26:21 – Bruxelles (AFP) – © 2023 AFP