Welcome to the eighth edition of the V-Europe newsletter. This week’s newsletter is written by Adrien Masset, a lawyer for many civil parties during this trial as a member of V-Europe’s defence team.
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Table of contents
- The past week, by Adrien Masset
- The coming week
The past week, by Adrien Masset
Two weeks ago, the investigating judges and examining magistrates had started with the individual presentations of the accused and the suicide bombers of Zaventem and Maelbeek. On Thursday 26 January, they presented the accused Ali EL HADDAD ASUFI.
Monday 30 January was devoted to the presentation of the accused Smaïl FARISI (lawyer: Mr Xavier Carrette), who graduated as an electrician but had never worked, was a gambler and an alcoholic. He has been on the lists of the Public Social Welfare Centre and has always been living with his parents. However, he rented studios on two different occasions, in particular to benefit from a financially more interesting status of the Public Social Welfare Centre. He rented a studio on Avenue des Casernes that he sublet to his school friend Ibrahim EL BAKRAOUI, before December 2015.
The investigators described in detail the numerous visits of S. FARISI to this studio, sometimes for long hours, where he met the two EL BAKRAOUI brothers. On 16 March 2016, the day after the shooting in the Rue du Dries, he met Bilal EL MAKOUKI and Ossama KRAYEM at this studio too. FARISI believes that what Khalid EL BAKRAOUI tells him about KRAYEM, who is staying at the studio, has nothing to do with the terrorism mentioned in the press but with organised crime. FARISI goes to the studio every day, including on 20 March 2016 to get money. On 21 March, he leaves the studio at 6.01 pm and does not return until 22 March at around 4.30 pm; he is therefore not present when the bags loaded with bombs are brought in at 10.15 pm and 00.12 am.
On 22 March, he returns to the studio around 4.30 p.m. and is seen looking for the badge and key that had been given to EL BAKHRAOUI. As he’s not finding them, he laboriously changes the locks. He further said that on that same 22 March, he saw the photos of Zaventem and thought he recognised the two EL BAKRAOUI brothers.
The following facts suggest that S. FARISI was involved: a message from the Max Roos computer under the nickname "fumiere" (which he disputes); the arrest of BAKKALI on 26 November (who also regularly visited the Casernes studio; FARISI’s frequent comings and goings. On the other hand, no radicalism was ever noted and it seemed that he had no attraction for Islam or Syria.
A video reconstruction was made of 16/17 March, when FARISI returned to the Casernes studio at around 3:00am and met KRAYEM and Khalid EL BAKRAOUI. He claims to have urged them to leave on the 21st of March, which they promised to do on the 22nd and then the 23rd of March.
From 23 March 2016, FARISI was busy emptying the studio together with his brother Ibrahim, to whom he said he needed him because he was in trouble, but he doesn’t remember if he explained why. Surprisingly, Ibrahim carries an empty bag with a latex glove while the press had not yet released any photos of the bag. They make everything disappear without leaving traces; there was only a smell of perfume (musk) and not of TATP.
S. FARISI asked to take a polygraph test but on the set day, he decided not to proceed due to the medication he was taking (and a smoked joint). FARISI was under arrest from April 2016 to February 2018. He was released in the Court of Assises.
Next comes the presentation of the suicide bomber Ibrahim EL BAKRAOUI, blown up in Zaventem. He was last seen on Avenue des Casernes on 29 February 2016. He had a lot of cash at his disposal and it is known that all purchases intensified as of 14 March.
Tuesday 31 January began with the presentation of kamikaze Najim LAACHRAOUI, who died in Zaventem. He was radicalised; arrested for the first time in 2012 during a demonstration organised by Sharia4Belgium, in 2013 again after an aborted attempt, and he later left for Syria (Abou Idriss El Belgiqui). N. LAACHRAOUI was convicted in absentia on 3 May 2016. He had been a member of different IS groups and took on different roles there: as fighter alongside EL MAKOUKI, as alleged hostage of French journalists in 2014 and was enrolled in a special brigade.
This was followed by the presentation of the suicide bomber Khalid EL BAKRAOUI, who blew up in Maelbeek. He radicalised in prison where he was from 2009 to 2013 for an attempted robbery. In 2013, K. EL BAKRAOUI was released with an electronic bracelet and was eventually granted parole. His cousin Oussama ATAR visited him often in prison.
When he was released from prison in 2013, he changed his appearance and married (his widow gave birth to a son 1.5 months after the attacks). K. EL BAKRAOUI was involved in the Thalys attack and in the Paris attacks.
He was known in Brussels as a major criminal. K. EL BAKRAOUI was suspected in another case of the senseless murder of a pensioner who was leaving a café (to see what it felt like to kill someone) and in the theft from an art museum whose resale to insurers did not work. He rented the apartment on rue du Dries.
Wednesday 1 February was entirely devoted to the presentation of the accused Mohamed ABRINI (lawyer: Mr Stanislas Eskénazi), known as Abou Yayah and sentenced in Paris to life imprisonment with a security period of 22 years (the President read a large part of his sentence as he hadreturned to Belgium the day before the attacks). He went to Syria in June 2014 and was arrested on 8 April 2016, after a run in Brussels following on the Zaventem attack. He was both the neighbour and close friend of ABDESLAM and ABAOUD.
M. ABRINI says he was deeply affected by the death of his brother and other friends in Syria, as well as by the situation imposed in Gaza. He radicalised while he was in the prison of Foret, where he was nicknamed "Brings". He lived on money that was stolen or won at games, is a polycriminal since the age of 13 and has been in prison many times.
He frequently visited almost all known hideouts, including Avenue de l'Exposition (with 6 other radicalised people), Rue du Dries and Rue Max Roos. He wrote his will while he was in Rue du Dries. He says he did so because of the others were insisting, as deep down he knew that he would not die. He decontextualised the Koran by arguing that armed jihad was an individual obligation.
It was BELKAID who insisted that ABDESLAM should stay in Rue du Dries and that ABRINI should leave Rue Max Roos, where he had spent 3 weeks (with the exception of a stay of 2 to 5 nights on Rue Tivoli with BAYINGANA and KRAYEM). M. ABRINI returned there on 22 March, as well as on 7 April (the day before his arrest, when nobody came to open the door). He recalled the fire that broke out on14 March in Rue Max Roos and the intervention of the owner and concierge on 15 March, due to the flooding caused.
When asked why he did not flee earlier, ABRINI answered the investigators that he wanted to go until the end with the two others, who were really nice guys, and because he wanted to accompany them until the death of Najim LAACHRAOUI.
His flight through Brussels until his arrest on 8 April 2016 is described in great detail.
In 2016, State Security released details of wiretaps between ABRINI and NEMMOUCHE, the terrorist of the Jewish Museum in Belgium, and EL MAKHOUKHI, which were conducted in May 2016 in Bruges prison. These elements were only added to the case in 2019, which led to protests from the defence.
Thursday 2 February was devoted to the presentation of the accused Bilal El Makhoukhi (lawyerl: Nicolas Cohen and Virginie Taelman), known as Abou Imrane.
He had been wearing a prosthesis in his right leg since January 2015 due to a combat accident in Syria, to where he left in 2012 because he couldn’t find a job as a plumber in Belgium. B. El Makhoukhi was part of the same group as LAACHRAOUI and ABAOUD (the man behind the wheel of the 4X4 dragging hostages) who specialised in kidnapping journalists.
According to the examining magistrate and the investigators, he always denied everything, only to gradually admit what was obvious from the evidence submitted to him. This evidence includes the nickname Abu Imrane, his recovery (where? and with whom?), the weapons that were removed from from Rue Max Roos (by whom?), the weapons that were handed over to someone else (who, where, when?) and the DNA evidence.
B. El Makhoukhi was arrested on 8 April 2016 as a result of observations. He was filmed at Avenue des Casernes and Rue Max Roos on 16 March; he is seen again at Rue Max Roos on 20 March. A paper that says Abou Imrane and Abou Amin with a telephone number is found in Rue Max Roos and will lead the investigation towards him and BAYINGANA; who both worked in the same shop in Brussels.
He was wearing an electronic bracelet until 15 March 2016 (convicted in the Sharia4Belgium trial in 2015), which makes it impossible to locate him when he is outside of his house (where he was obliged to stay during certain imposed timeslots).
He refused to answer questions during the reconstruction at the flat in Rue Max Roos. He has been interrogated 7 times, the last time in June 2022: he admits to have fought in Syria in an armed group of 300 people.
He claims to have no death on his conscience and says that he sleeps like a baby every night. When he passed by Rue Max Roos on 21 March around 6.10 pm, he says that the weapons were still in the flat and that he does not know if there was a smell of TATP. He had been seeing Khalid EL BAKRAOUI often since their release from prison back then.
The experts say he is psychorigid, falsely cooperative and very radicalised with a clearly anti-social personality.
The coming week
The President is still waiting for the agenda. One thing is certain, there will be no hearings from Friday 17 February to Sunday 25 February: the week of 20 to 24 February 2023 remains a holiday. Questions (to date, only the judges of the Court of Assizes and the jurors can ask questions) and comments after these testimonies of the investigating judges and investigators should take place on Thursday 9 February and Monday, 13 February to Thursday 16 February, and, if necessary, continue at the resumed hearing on Monday 26 February.
The presentation of the other defendants will continue next week until (and including) Wednesday 8 February. More info on the calender page of the website.
Support and representation
V-Europe provides support to any victim of terrorism who requests it. At least one of our coordinators is present every day at the trial, wearing a distinctive white jacket with the V-Europe logo on the back. Feel free to let them know you are there if you wish. More information about our coordinators can be found on the V-Europe website, by calling this number:
Do you want to be represented at the trial? V-Europe has set up a group of lawyers who defend the victims during the trial. Guillaume Lys, Nicolas Estienne, Adrien Masset and Sanne de Clerck are joining forces to defend you during this long trial. More information here or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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