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Ten to face trial for 2016 Brussels bombings

Ten suspects will go on trial over the 2016 Brussels bombings, Belgium’s worst peace-time atrocity that left 32 dead, a court source told AFP on Tuesday.

An alleged French jihadist, 31-year-old Salah Abdeslam, who is also charged in the previous year’s even deadlier Paris gun and bomb attacks, is among the accused.

The 10 defendants will be tried in front of a jury in the second half of 2022, after the separate French trial wraps up.

In March 2016, suicide bombers targeted crowds in Brussels airport and a city centre metro station near the European Union headquarters buildings.

The attack has been linked to the same cross-border Islamic State cell that carried out the November 2015 attacks in Paris.

There, bombers and gunmen targeted cafes, a public area outside the Stade de France stadium in Saint Denis and a popular music venue, murdering 130 people.

Abdeslam is allegedly the only survivor of the team that carried out the assault and he is suspected of playing a key role in organising the Brussels attacks.

The trial will be a huge undertaking. The former NATO headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels has been refurbished to become a high-security courthouses.

– ‘Man in the hat’ –

Federal anti-terror prosecutors had asked for eight of 13 suspects to stand trial, but a panel of judges meeting in closed session sent 10 to trial.

Three suspects were cleared because of insufficient evidence, prosecution spokesman Eric Van Duyse said.

Abdeslam faces a life sentence. He is currently detained in France, pending trial there.

He has already been tried once in Belgium. The Frenchman, who grew up in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, was sentenced in 2018 to 20 years for shooting at Brussels police before his 2016 arrest.

Another alleged member of the network, Oussama Atar, is thought to have died in Syria since the Paris and Brussels attacks and could be judged in absentia.

Mohamed Abrini, 36, known as the “man in the hat” after his appearance on security camera footage taken shortly before the Brussels airport bombing is one more of the suspects to be tried.

Two suicide bombers died in the airport blasts, but Abrini was allegedly seen leaving the area.

Another defendant, Osama Krayem, 28, is accused of accompanying bombers to the metro.

The others accused face lesser charges of “taking part in the activities of a terrorism group”.