Did Hassan H. plan terrorist outrage in Belgium?

The trial of Hassan H. has started in Mechelen. Hassan H. and 13 fellow defendants face terrorism charges.

Police tracked down Hassan H. at the end of 2009 after a tip-off by a foreign intelligence service that had noticed the chat messages that he had posted on an extremist website linked to Al Qaeda. He wrote: "I can kill at least twenty or thirty Jews. (...) If I had a Kalashnikov."

Hassan H. said that he wanted to kill Jews and commit an atrocity in Belgium at a location where many people gather, e.g. at a music festival or on a train with soldiers. Hassan H.'s interlocutors on the website urged him to carry out the attack claiming more victims than the Madrid attacks in 2004.

Hassan H. said that he wanted to kill Jews and commit an atrocity in Belgium at a location where many people gather, e.g. at a music festival or on a train with soldiers. Hassan H.'s interlocutors on the website urged him to carry out the attack claiming more victims that the Madrid attacks in 2004.

Belgian detectives decided to intervene immediately, but preferred to wait and see how Hassan H. and his contacts operated. Detectives saw in Hassan H. a strange figure with mental problems who they did not take seriously.

This changed when they noticed that he was in contact with one of the top people in the world of Muslim extremism: a man from Saudi Arabia who proposed to supply Hassan H. with money and weapons. The contacts stopped after the man in Saudi Arabia was detained. Hassan H. kept thinking about an attack even though he had lost his financial backer.

Hassan H. then joined a group of Muslim extremists from Antwerp who planned to go and fight in Chechnya. The group included three people from Sharia4Belgium. The members of the group were detained before they could implement their plans.

Today 18 months later 14 suspects are standing trial and face charges regarding membership of a terrorist organisation. Most of the suspects were released on bail, but Hassan H. and his brothers remain in custody.

The federal public prosecutor hopes to secure a terrorism conviction based on evidence collected by telephone tapping showing that the suspects planned to travel to Chechnya to fight a Holy War. They face sentences of up to ten years in gaol if convicted.

Prosecutors also face the challenge of proving that Hassan H. was also planning an attack in Belgium.

The trial comes only days after the French terrorist Mohamed Merah targeted Jews in a terrorist outrage in France guaranteeing considerable international attention for the Belgian trial.

Philip Heymans