BRUSSELS: A Brussels court on Tuesday convicted French citizen Salah Abdeslam and Belgian-Moroccan Moha­m­ed Abrini for 2016 bombings in the Belgian capital that killed 32 people, after the country’s largest-ever criminal trial.

The high-profile pair — already sentenced to life in jail by France for a 2015 massacre in Paris — were among six accused found guilty of “murder linked to terrorism” over the biggest peacetime attack in Belgium.

The suicide attacks on March 22, 2016 at the Belgian capital’s main airport and on the metro system were claimed by the Islamic State group.

Hundreds of travellers and transport staff were maimed in the blasts and seven years on many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatised.

The murder convictions leave those found guilty facing a life sentence in Belgium. Sentencing is expected after the summer recess ends in September.

Abdeslam, 33, was the sole surviving perpetrator of the 2015 Paris attack that killed 130 people.

He had fled to Brussels after taking part in the Paris attacks and holed up for four months in an apartment hosting members of the local cell.

He was arrested several days before the Brussels attacks took place.

But the jury — which spent over two weeks deliberating — rejected his claim not to have been involved in planning the violence.

Abrini was found guilty of being one of the teams of suicide bombers who targeted Brussels’ airport and a metro station.

He testified that he decided at the last-minute not to blow himself up at the airport — as did another defendant, Osama Krayem, a Swede of Syrian descent.

Krayem was also found guilty of murder, along with defendants Ali El Haddad Asufi and Bilal El Makhoukhi.

Two other suspects — Tunisian Sofien Ayari and Rwandan Herve Bayingana Muhirwa — were acquitted of murder but found guilty of participating in a terrorist group.

Two brothers Smail and Ibrahim Farisi who were acquitted on the charges they faced.

The trial, which started at the end of last year, was held under tight security at the converted former headquarters of the Nato military alliance.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2023

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