Jury delivers verdict over Brussels extremist attacks that killed 32

Belgian media say a jury has found six people guilty of terrorist murder for extremist attacks in 2016 that killed 32 people, Belgium’s worst peacetime violence

July 25, 2023 11:40 pm | Updated July 26, 2023 12:16 am IST - Brussels

Lawyers sit at tables in front of a specially designed glass box, holding defendants, in the courtroom during the start of the Brussels terrorist attack trial verdict in the Justitia building in Brussels, Tuesday, July 25, 2023. A jury is expected to render its verdict Tuesday over Belgium’s deadliest peacetime attack. The suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and a busy subway station in 2016 killed 32 people in a wave of attacks in Europe claimed by the Islamic State group.

Lawyers sit at tables in front of a specially designed glass box, holding defendants, in the courtroom during the start of the Brussels terrorist attack trial verdict in the Justitia building in Brussels, Tuesday, July 25, 2023. A jury is expected to render its verdict Tuesday over Belgium’s deadliest peacetime attack. The suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and a busy subway station in 2016 killed 32 people in a wave of attacks in Europe claimed by the Islamic State group. | Photo Credit: AP

A jury on Tuesday found six people guilty of terrorist murder for extremist attacks in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and were claimed by the Islamic State group, in Belgium’s deadliest peacetime violence, according to Belgian media.

Among those convicted for their role in the suicide bombings at Brussels’ airport and a subway station was Salah Abdeslam, who already is serving a life sentence without parole in France over his role in attacks that hit Paris cafes, the Bataclan theater and France’s national stadium in 2015.

The verdict was reported by public broadcaster RTBF, newspaper Le Soir and news websites HLN and Nieuwsblad.

The chief judge read out the verdict and explanations by the 12-person jury, who made a clear connection to IS and its extremist ideology. The reading of the verdict was expected to take a few hours. Sentencing will be decided in a separate process, not before September.

In addition to the six people convicted of terrorist murder, four others on trial were acquitted or facing other charges.

The biggest trial in Belgium’s judicial history unfolded over seven months in a special court to address the exceptional case. Survivors and families of victims hoped the trial and verdict would help them work through what happened and find closure.

The morning rush hour attacks on March 22, 2016 at Zavantem Airport and on the Brussels subway’s central commuter line deeply shook the city, which is home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, and put the country on edge. In addition to the 32 people killed, nearly 900 others were wounded or suffered serious mental trauma.

Jamila Adda, president of the Life4Bruxelles victims’ association, gathered a group of survivors at the special courthouse to hear Tuesday’s verdict. Among them was a man named Frederic, who said the ‘’atrocious crimes’‘ of March 22 still haunt him.

“We have been waiting for this for seven years, seven years that weighed heavily on the victims. ... We are waiting with impatience, and with some anguish” for the verdict, he told The Associated Press. Frederic, among the commuters who survived the attack at the Maelbeek metro station, spoke on condition that his last name not be published to protect his identity as a victim of trauma.

Survivors have supported each other through the proceedings, some coming every day. “It is important to be together, to hear the decision of justice,’‘ Frederic said. And then, they hope “to be able to turn the page.’‘

The 12 jurors had been deliberating since early July over some 300 questions the court asked them to consider before reaching a verdict. Tuesday’s expected decision will address whether or not each of the suspects is guilty of various charges. and may take several hours to be read out.

Eventual sentencing will be decided in a separate process. If convicted, some could face up to 30 years in prison.

Abdeslam was the only survivor among the Islamic State extremists who struck Paris in November 2015 and were part of a Franco-Belgian network that went on to target Brussels four months later. After months on the run following the Paris attacks, Abdeslam was captured in Brussels on March 18, 2016, and his arrest may have prompted other members of the IS cell to rush ahead with attack plans on the Belgian capital.

Also convicted of terrorist murder at the trial in Brussels was Mohamed Abrini, childhood friend of Abdeslam and a Brussels native who walked away from Zaventem airport after his explosives failed to detonate.

Oussama Atar, who has been identified as a possible organizer of the deadly attacks on both Paris and Brussels, was convicted of terrorist murder in absentia. He is believed to have died in the Islamic State group’s final months of fighting in Iraq and Syria.

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