Belgium starts trial over 2016 suicide bombings

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Around 700 Belgians arrived in court on Wednesday for a mammoth process to select a jury for the trial of 10 men accused of involvement in the 2016 bombings in Brussels that killed 32 people.

Belgium’s largest ever trial began with hundreds of potential jurors filing through airport-style security checks and into eight waiting rooms with morning rush hour traffic snarled up outside by police searches of vehicles.

After a half-hour delay, presiding judge Laurence Massart addressed the court to assign translators and asked the defendants to identify themselves and confirm their lawyers.

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They are variously charged with murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context and leading or participating in the activities of a terrorist group over the twin bombings at Brussels Airport and third bomb on the metro on March 22, 2016.

Osama Krayem, a Swedish national accused of planning to be a second metro bomber, refused to answer any questions. The eight others present gave the requested information. One defendant, presumed killed in Syria, is being tried in absentia.

In accordance with Belgium court procedure, the defendants have not declared whether they are innocent or guilty.

The Brussels bombings trial has clear links to the French trial over the November 2015 Paris attacks. Six of the Brussels accused were convicted in France in June and the large glass box housing most defendants is similar to that used in Paris.

However, unlike the French trial which was decided by judges, the Brussels case will be settled by a jury, with 12 people and 24 replacements who must sit through a potentially harrowing trial set to last until the end of June.

The court summoned 1,000 Belgians for jury service, accepting the appeals of around 300 to be exempted. The others were obliged to come on Wednesday, risking a fine of up to 8,000 euros ($8,290) if they did not.

Many appeared before the judge, one by one over hours, seeking to be excused, some emotional - some, such as Brussels metro operator workers, those with medical certificates and top Belgian 400 meter runner Kevin Borlee, Massart accepted. Many
others she declined.

The main proceedings of the trial are due to start on Monday.

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