They were arrested in Maaseik and Brussels: 13 terror suspects accused of links to the group behind the Casablanca and Madrid bombings.
They are not accused of planning attacks on Belgian soil, but in providing logistical support to terror network Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM).
Arrested between March and July 2004, the suspects are accused of giving shelter to suspects of the Madrid and Casablanca bombings or helping them obtain forged travel documents.
The trial forms a test of a new Belgian terror law enacted in 2003, in which convicted members of a terrorist organisation can be jailed for 10 years.
All suspects were arrested after Khalid Bouloudou, 30, was arrested during a routine traffic inspection at Weert in the Netherlands. Of Moroccan ancestry, but born and bred in Belgium, Bouloudou was pulled over by police because one of his car lights was not working.
He was making his way home to Maaseik just over the Belgian border, but was immediately detained because his name stood on an international arrest warrant as the alleged Belgian leader of GICM.
Police then swooped on many of his co-suspects in March 2004 as 20 house raids were made in Maaseik in Brussels. The suspects had been under surveillance for some time.
In August, 13 of some 17 suspects were ordered to stand trial and after Thursday’s procedural hearing, they will stand trial on 16 November.
The trial will be conducted in French, despite a request from a lawyer of three suspects that he be allowed to speak Dutch throughout the proceedings.
The request was denied because it was not made according to correct procedures. All suspects will now be provided with an interpreter if necessary.
But who are the defendants and what are they suspected of.
Suspects still in Belgium
Khalid Bouloudou, 30.
Residence: Maaseik, currently being detained in Vorst.
He is suspected of being the co-ordinator of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) in Belgium. He went to Afghanistan in 2000 and later to Syria to study Islam, Flemish newspaper ‘De Standaard’ reported.
The defendant’s brother has denied Bouloudou is involved in terrorism, while other Moroccans in the town of Maaseik have also cast doubt on the allegations. In a town of just 23,000 on the border with the Dutch province of Limburg, Bouloudo’s conversion to extremist Islam surprised many.
Once known as a social, integrated youth, Bouloudou is known to have drunk alcohol, smoke cigarettes and marijuana before converting to extreme Islam. He grew a long beard while in Syria and Afghanistan and started wearing traditional clothing.
Abdelkader Hakimi — who was sentenced to death in Morocco — visited him at his Maaseik apartment. Boloudou’s sister Samira is married to Lahoussine El Haski, whose brother Hassan El Haski is suspected of involvement in the Madrid train bombings.
Abdelkader Hakimi, 39.
Residence: Schaarbeek, currently being detained in Sint-Gillis.
He is accused of involvement in the 11 March 2004 attacks in Madrid and 14 May 2003 bombings in Casablanca. He is allegedly the European leader of GICM.
Lahoussine El Haski, 29.
Residence: Maaseik, now being detained in Vorst.
He was allegedly a member of the religious council of GICM. He is alleged to have fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan. Married to the sister of Khalid Bouloudou.
Mostafa Lounani, 41.
Residence: Schaarbeek, now being detained in Vorst.
He is suspected of handling stolen stamps to forge passports. Police allegedly found in his house instructions for a mobile phone-controlled detonator.
Abdallah Ouabour, 31.
Residence: Maaseik, now being detained