A jury on Tuesday found six people guilty of terrorist murder for extremist attacks at the Brussels airport and a busy subway station that killed 32 people in Belgium’s deadliest peacetime violence, part of a wave of attacks in Europe linked to the Islamic State group.
Among those convicted for their role in the 2016 Brussels suicide bombing plot 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. Both the Paris and Brussels attacks were linked to the same IS network.
Wrapping up the biggest trial in Belgium’s judicial history, the chief judge listed the names of the victims before reading the decisions and explanations of the 12-person jury. The verdict was reported by Belgian media covering the trial from inside the courtroom, including public broadcaster RTBF, newspaper Le Soir and news websites HLN and Nieuwsblad.
Survivors and families of victims hoped the trial that started in earnest in December would help them work through the trauma of what happened on March 22, 2016, and to find closure.
In total, 10 defendants were on trial. Two brothers were acquitted of all charges. The other eight were convicted of participating in activities of a terrorist group; six of those eight were also convicted of terrorist murder.
Sentencing will be decided in a separate process, but not before September.
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The morning rush hour attacks at Zavantem Airport, which is also known as Brussels Airport, and on the Brussels subway’s central commuter line deeply shook the city — home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO — and put Belgians on edge. In addition to the 32 people killed, hundreds of others were wounded or suffered serious mental trauma.
The jury made a clear connection between the attacks and IS and its extremist ideology, and found that the attackers clearly wanted to intimidate Belgian society. Jurors also determined there was clear homicidal intention and premeditation, according to the media reports.
The jurors deliberated since early July over some 300 questions the court asked them to consider before reaching a verdict.
The jury found that four additional deaths could be attributed to the attacks, including a survivor who later took his own life because of mental suffering and another who had to stop cancer treatment due to injuries sustained in the attack, according to the media reports.
Survivors gathered at the special courthouse designed for the exceptional trial to hear Tuesday’s verdict. Among them was a man named Frederic, who said the ‘’atrocious crimes” committed the day of the attacks haunt him.
He was among the commuters who survived the attack at the Maelbeek metro station and spoke Tuesday on condition that his last name not be published to protect his identity as a victim of trauma.
“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.
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Survivors supported each other through the proceedings, some coming to court every day. “It is important to be together, to hear the decision of justice,” Frederic said. After that, they hope “to be able to turn the page.”
Abdeslam was the only survivor among the Islamic State extremists who struck Paris in November 2015. After months on the run, he was captured in Brussels on March 18, 2016. 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, a childhood friend of Abdeslam and a Brussels native who walked away from Zaventem Airport after his explosives failed to detonate.
Oussama Atar, 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.
Philippe Vansteenkiste, who sister Fabienne died in the attacks, told Belgian broadcaster VRT: “I hope there will be global recognition and justice. Terror is trying to attack democracy. By showing that we have faith in the jury and democracy, we are sending a signal to terrorists.”
“The wound has reopened,” he said. “It may heal better after this, but the scar will always remain.”
Angela Charlton in Paris and Mike Corder in The Hague, the Netherlands, contributed to this report.
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