A court in Brussels on Monday will start a preliminary session on the Brussels terrorist attacks in 2016, Belgium’s deadliest peacetime attack. The case will try ten men for their alleged involvement in the attacks in a landmark trial that survivors hope will help them and Belgium move forward.
The accused are allegedly members of a unit of Islamic State (IS) which was responsible for both the March 2016 suicide attacks in Brussels and the November 2015 attacks in Paris. In Belgium, three suicide bombers struck Brussels airport and Maalbeek metro station, killing 32 and injuring hundreds.
The nine alleged terrorists, including the leader of the group French 32-year-old Salah Abdeslam, will face a range of charges. One of the accused is believed to have been killed in Syria but will be tried in absentia.
It will be Belgium’s largest-ever trial, as 960 plaintiffs will be represented in the former offices of NATO.
Abdeslam has already been sentenced to life imprisonment in France for his part in the 2015 attacks in Paris and will not be present at Monday’s initial hearing.
Many of the victims and their families are expected to attend the trial. “My life was completely destroyed. I lost my friends and gave up my hobby as a pilot,” said Philippe Vandenberghe, an airport manager who helped wounded travellers and now has post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although Vandenberge had a first aid certificate, he was unprepared for the carnage of the airport suicide bombs. He saw victims screaming while they were enveloped in smoke and is haunted by seeing two children lose their mother.
“I gave first aid to 18 different people. I’m sure that I saved one woman,” the 51-year-old said. He is now unemployed, following a legal dispute with his former employer and insurer due to medical bills. He paints, helps charities, and is training to drive ambulances.