A Brussels court on Tuesday convicted French citizen Salah Abdeslam and Belgian-Moroccan Mohamed Abrini for 2016 jihadist 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 Brussels’ main airport and on the metro system were claimed by the ISIL group.
Hundreds of travellers and transport staff were maimed 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. Prosecutors told the court they believed the Belgium-based cell also carried out the November 13, 2015 rampage in the French capital.
Abdeslam 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.
Suspect Osama Atar, who is believed to have been killed in an air strike in Syria, was convicted in absentia of masterminding the attacks.
Two other defendants — Tunisian Sofien Ayari and Rwandan Herve Bayingana Muhirwa — were acquitted of murder but found guilty of participating in a terrorist group.
Brothers Smail and Ibrahim Farisi were acquitted of the charges they faced.
A lawyer for Abrini said the verdict marked an “important moment” after years of legal proceedings and that attention would now focus on the sentencing.
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.
Dozens of wounded survivors and bereaved relatives gave often emotional testimony during the months of hearings.
Pierre Bastin, the father of one of those killed at the metro blast, said he hoped the trial would “help to turn the page”.
On the morning of March 22, 2016, two men blew themselves up at Brussels-Zaventem international airport, and a third an hour later in a metro train near the seat of the European Union.
The bombings — near the headquarters of both NATO and the EU — were part of a wave of attacks claimed by the ISIL group in Europe.
The court on Tuesday formally boosted the death toll from the attacks from 32 to 35, after finding a link between the trauma suffered and the deaths of three more people subsequently.
One of those included a 23-year-old woman, present at the airport, who decided to end her life through euthanasia due to the mental suffering inflicted.