Welcome to the thirteenth edition of the V-Europe newsletter. This week’s newsletter is written by Nicolas Estienne, a lawyer for many civil parties during this trial as a member of V-Europe’s defence team. The week was entirely devoted to the testimonies of civil parties.
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Table of contents
- Thursday 2 March: comments of the parties
- Monday 6 March: testimonies of doctors and civil parties
- Tuesday 7 March - Thursday 9 March: testimonies of civil parties
Thursday 2 March: comments of the parties
The previous week was supposed to start with the parties' comments following the weeks-long hearings of the investigators. It finally began with the announcement of the death of the counsel for one of the accused, Maître Sébastien Courtoy. The President decided on Monday to pay a sober and solemn tribute to him in the presence of the President of the Brussels Bar Association. A few days were given to Mr Courtoy's assistant to reorganise his client's defence.
The hearing was therefore resumed on Thursday to allow the parties to make their comments. In their comments, the Federal Prosecutors insisted on the quality and scope of the investigation carried out, as well as on the revealing of important details about the defendants.
It was then the turn of the civil parties to take the floor. V-Europe emphasised the importance of the stage reached in this trial, which has enabled us to learn more about the exact role of each of the defendants. While an investigation always has its limits, its grey areas, we feel that the 300 boxes of proceedings have left very few questions unanswered. We were impressed by the precise, nuanced and surgical knowledge of the case demonstrated by the three investigating judges and their experts and investigators. We were also impressed by the technical and human resources deployed in this investigation. Nothing was left to chance: all doors were opened, all leads were exploited, those that did not lead to anything were closed. Only those that led to the accused being brought before the Court remain. We affirmed our conviction that the indictment faithfully reflects all the elements presented by the investigating judges and investigators.
We also recalled the possibility that has been offered for seven years to the accused to request additional investigative work, a possibility that has been little used by the defence. Finally, we called for the defence of the accused not to be reduced to the dead-end strategies of silence, refusal to answer, or minimisation of the evidence against them. All these strategies are exclusive of any self-questioning.
The defence then took the floor, without weakening the solidity of the evidence presented by the investigating judges and investigators.
The hearing was suspended to allow the victims to speak. This was an opportunity for all of us to recall the raison d'être of this trial.
Monday 6 March: testimonies of doctors and civil parties
The morning was devoted to the hearing of several doctors who intervened in the care of several victims: Dr. Serge GENNES (specialist in burn victims at the Military Hospital of Never-Over-Heembeek), Dr. Thierry LEJEUNE (rehabilitation specialist at Saint-Luc University Clinics), Dr. Gérald VAN GEERT (ENT specialist), and Dr. Nadia KADI-VAN ACKER (psychiatrist).
From Dr. GENNES's testimony, it was notably emphasised that seriously burned victims "are martyrs," given the significant suffering they must endure.
For his part, Dr. VAN GEERT gave illuminating explanations about the auditory problems caused by the explosions, particularly regarding tinnitus, which he reminded us is a source of "major discomfort, involving attentional and sleep disorders" ("The victim will never be able to find a moment of silence again").
As for Dr. Nadia KADI-VAN ACKER, she provided a very comprehensive picture of the psychological trauma suffered by the victims of the attacks (PTSD and anxiety-depressive syndrome).
She explained that psychological trauma is primarily the result of a "surprise effect" or unpreparedness for the attack ("You don't expect it"), even for the first responders, combined with a sense of horror, powerlessness, abandonment, and constant insecurity ("You lose control. The trauma completely isolates you from the outside world. The enemy is invisible and therefore everywhere").
Dr. KADI-VAN ACKER also emphasised the impact that psychological trauma has on loved ones ("You may no longer feel connected to your family").
She further specified that the most significant trauma occurs, as in this case, when it is intentional or interpersonal trauma (a will to destroy the other, reducing them to an object), which is much stronger than accidental trauma (such as a car accident, natural disaster, or illness).
The jurors were particularly attentive throughout the morning, asking several questions to the different doctors present at the bar.
In the early afternoon, the first victim to be heard was Béatrice LASNIER de LAVALETTE, who was 17 years old at the time of the Zaventem attack.
She had to have both legs amputated and retains complete paralysis of the pelvis, as well as significant burns and hearing loss in her right ear.
Béatrice explained how she was confronted with the anxiety of imminent death: "I understood that there was triage. I was labeled as red, which means, I later understood, that they thought there was little chance that I would survive."
She also mentioned that it took her enormous mental strength to "learn to live differently", while explaining that it was thanks to her horse and horse riding (she is now a member of the US equestrian team and participated in the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games) that helped her in this regard ("As soon as I saw my horse, I understood that there was someone waiting for me to get better. Because for me, at 17, I already thought it was the end of my life.").
Béatrice's account was full of great dignity and emotion.
The President of the Court of Assizes then read a very moving text written by Mrs. Virginia BALDWIN, widow of Mr. Bruce BALDWIN (an American diplomat stationed at NATO), who died in Zaventem.
The Preseident continued by reading the testimony of Mrs. Miriana SCINTU, mother of Jennifer WAETZMANN-SCINTU, also deceased in Zaventem at the age of 29 years old. Jennifer had recently been married and was hoping to soon have a child.
Tuesday 7 March: testimonies of civil parties
The morning began with the testimony of Ms. Nidhi CHAPHEKAR, a flight attendant for an Indian airline, who was seriously injured on March 22, 2016, at Zaventem airport.
Nidhi emphasized the significant impact that the attack had on her husband ("He had to bear a huge burden") and her children ("In this kind of situation, it's the children who suffer the most").
She also described the physical, psychological, social, and financial consequences of the attack for her, stating that she is now unable to find a new job with an airline ("In India, to fly, you have to be beautiful, presentable, without scars, and that's no longer the case for me").
Next, Ms. Karina PONNET took the stand. Ms. Karina PONNET is the wife of Nic COOPMAN, who was fatally hit by the second bomb.
She explained the distress with which, for three days, she searched for her husband in several hospitals, thinking that he must be in a coma and therefore unable to contact his loved ones.
It was only on March 25 that she was informed of Nic's death.
With great emotion, she said: "I wasn't there when Nic was born or when he died. I would have liked to grow old with him, take care of him if he became ill or if he lost both legs in the attack."
Ms. PONNET also emphasized that "Nic was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the terrorists who had no right to be there, with the intentions they had. All the other people were in the right place at the right time."
In the afternoon, the Court heard from Ms. Loubna SELASSI, wife of Mr. Abdellah LAHLALI, a baggage handler at the airport who was seriously injured (had a leg amputated) as a result of the attack.
Her testimony was particularly enlightening in demonstrating the significant impact of the attack on family members, with Ms. SELASSI explaining that she was unable to care for her two children during the three months that her husband was hospitalized in Antwerp: "The whole family was attacked, broken, amputated."
She also described the considerable difficulties she and her husband encountered with insurance companies, as Mr. LAHLALI remained without a prosthetic leg for many months due to the refusal of the work accident insurer to finance the acquisition of the equipment ("I regret that the State left us in the hands of insurers. We need help, not judgments. Instead, we are judged, constantly examined").
Ms. SELASSI also highlighted her husband's enormous distress: "He is not locked in a box but imprisoned in a body that he can't accept."
For her, "March 22 deprived me of my husband," "I feel alone and abandoned; my heart is wounded; I have lost faith in humanity and in myself."
The hearing also allowed for the memory of Stéphanie and Justin SCHULTS-MOORE, Elita WEAH, and Adelma TAPIA RUIZ, all four of whom died as a result of the attack.
Wednesday 8 March: testimonies of civil parties
The day began with the testimony of Mrs. Janet WINSTON, who was present at the airport with her husband and both of whom were injured.
She began her testimony by pointing out that "there is no court in the animal world."
She explained that she was able to provide first aid to several victims and had to live for several days with the fear of not knowing if they were still alive.
The morning continued with the testimony of Mr. Edmond PINCZOWSKI and Mrs. Marjan FASBENDER, who are the parents of Alexander and Sascha PINCZOWSKI, brother and sister who both died at the airport on March 22, 2016.
The father was on the phone with his son when the network was interrupted at the exact moment of the explosion that he did not hear. The parents had to go to hospitals searching for their only two children whose photo they were showing.
They explained that, as part of the investigation, they were able to view surveillance camera footage: "We saw one of the terrorists walking towards them, a young man who could have been one of their friends. I couldn't help but think please, go to the other side. They had no chance, they were practically face to face with their killer, who triggered his bomb, killing them on the spot. They will never know that they served as a shield for a family behind them, probably saving their lives."
Their daughter Sasha had campaigned on social media after the Paris attacks to speak out against the bullshit towards the Muslim world.
The president of the Assize Court also read a long testimony from Mrs. Anne CAIN, wife of Alexander PINCZOWSKI, of which the following sentence is particularly noteworthy: "I was an adventurer, but he was my adventure."
In the afternoon, the Court heard from Mrs. Danielle IWENS, who was handling check-in for a flight in row 11 at the time of the explosions.
She talked about the considerable impact of the aftermath on her surroundings, and especially on her children: "I am no longer the strong woman I was before. I am not the same Danielle, the same wife, the same mother, the same friend, that I was. And it's very difficult to live with." After 22 years of career, she was dismissed for medical force majeure in 2022.
The afternoon continued with the testimony of the parents of Bart MIGOM, who died at the airport and had to search for four days to find out what had happened to their 17-year-old son.
The day ended with the testimony of Mrs. Caroline LERUTH, who was not physically injured but still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
She explained that after hiding outside the airport, she decided to enter the terminal to help some victims; she also took several photos and later wrote a book.
She emphasized that, in her opinion, the rescue services took a long time to arrive (more than thirty minutes).
Thursday 9 March 2023: testimonies of civil parties
The morning began with the testimony of Mr. Sébastien BELLIN, former captain of the Belgian national basketball team, who was seriously injured in his left leg and was very close to death, having lost 50% of his blood.
He stated that "It is the love for life that saved me".
He stressed that he was surrounded by extremely humane people, with love and compassion, saying in particular that "for the rescuers, it was harder than for me".
According to him, "Love heals everything. Throughout my career, I focused on the physical. But with the attacks, I learned that love is stronger".
Mr. Sébastien BELLIN ended his testimony by addressing the defendants: "I forgive you. By forgiving, I detach myself from these atrocities, from the hatred for which you are accused. Your mission failed. Instead of destroying me, you created in me a human with an incredible energy of compassion, tolerance, and open-mindedness. A humanity even more powerful than even two bombs could not extinguish in me. I stand before you as a survivor. I have overcome these atrocities. Forgiveness is the final step of my healing".
The floor was then given to the four children of Mr. André ADAM, who died at the airport, and of Mrs. Danielle ADAM, who was very seriously injured (amputation of a foot).
They recalled that the loss of their father deeply shook them, as well as the grandchildren.
They also expressed the immense distress in which their mother currently finds herself, as she has almost no mobility.
In the afternoon, the Court heard from two colleagues of the late Mr. Nic COOPMAN, as well as Mrs. Tiphaine SALMON, who notably declared herself "exhausted from being controlled by the ghost of that day" and hoped to "regain control of her life".
The day ended with the testimony of Mr. Philippe VANDENBERGHE, who worked at the airport as a computer geographer and, being certified in first aid, was one of the first people to provide assistance to several victims before the arrival of firefighters and ambulances.
With a great deal of precision and emotion, Mr. Philippe VANDENBERGHE described the "path" he took, first at the entrance of the terminal and then inside it, and the condition of the various victims he tried to help as best he could.
His assistance certainly saved two or three people.
With great dignity, he explained that he received very little support from several officials but received a written response from J.J. Goldmann.
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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