Seven Belgian investigators testify at the trial of the Paris attacks on Thursday

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These police officers had initially been cited as simple witnesses, without special precautions as to the guarantee of their anonymity. Terms that had not pleased the Belgian federal prosecutor, who had threatened to oppose their hearing.

Since September 8, France has tried 14 men – including 10 Belgians – accused, to varying degrees, of having participated in the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris and its suburbs, and claimed by the terrorist group Islamic State (IS ). These attacks caused the death of 130 people.

After the testimonies of victims, imbued with horror and hope, the words of the accused unfolding their experiences before the attacks, the words of the former President of the Republic François Hollande, then the summary of the French police officers of the General Directorate of the internal security (DGSI) on an investigation “anything but linear”, it will be the turn of the Belgian anti-terrorist police officers to trace their collaboration with the French police forces.

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Before the Parisian assizes, the participation of the Belgian police was first considered exemplary by the former Paris prosecutor François Molins, then criticized in watermarks by François Hollande – who had stressed that the flight of the accused Salah Abdeslam to the Belgium after the attacks was “not the responsibility of France” but “that of another country”.

From Thursday 25 November to Wednesday 8 December, depending on the trial schedule, Belgian investigators will testify by videoconference from Belgium, during more than 70 scheduled hearings. They will intervene with their faces uncovered but may wear a mouth mask. They will present themselves under their code name in use during the intervention and should not therefore give their first and last names, in order to protect their identity. This is a request from the Belgian federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw, to which the president of the special assize court of Paris, Jean-Louis Périès, granted last Friday, despite heated debates on this subject held at closed session in the council chamber with defense lawyers and civil parties.

For the Belgian federal prosecutor, the anonymity of the Belgian police officers was a sine qua non for their participation in the trial, both to ensure the safety of these witnesses and for legal reasons. A Belgian law of 2016, inspired by French legislation, guarantees the anonymity of the special and anti-terrorist units of the Belgian federal police. French anti-terrorism police have also testified in Paris on condition of anonymity.

“It is only justice”, commented to Belga Eric Van Duyse, spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office. Investigators from the Belgian and French cells “do the same job and are exposed to similar risks”. To the defense argument that the identity of the investigators already appears at the bottom of the reports issued during the investigation, Mr. Van Duyse wonders if “for all that, we must run an additional risk” to Belgian investigators . In addition, “there are the facts and the law,” he recalls. “We are prohibited by law from disclosing the names of police officers who work under a code name. “Indeed,” our investigators are still working today on sensitive files and the slightest flaw could put them, their families, their files at risk “, underlined the federal police, questioned by Belga.

Some defense lawyers also see a lack of respect for victims in the fact that Belgian police will speak from Brussels, when the French capital is within train reach. “All the work carried out during the investigation by the police, who slept there in order to be available at any time, all this work sufficiently shows the immense respect of the police for the victims”, swept the spokesman of the federal prosecutor’s office. “The rest is only a pragmatic question: should we obligatorily move these investigators, when it requires time, costs, and in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, when we can obtain the same result by videoconference? », He concluded.

After hearing the Belgian investigators, the court will hear the testimonies of relatives of deceased terrorists. On the dock, Salah Abdeslam is the only survivor of the terrorist commandos in Paris and Saint-Denis. The 13 other defendants are being prosecuted for having helped to prepare the attacks, facilitated the flight of Salah Abdeslam after the attacks or wanted to take part in the attacks.

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