Verviers terrorist trial kicks off in Brussels

16 presumed members of the Verviers terrorist ring are standing trial in Brussels as from today. A terrorist unit operating from the Liège city of Verviers was planning a terrorist attack, but was dismantled by Belgian police before it could carry out those plans. Several similarities can be seen between Verviers on the one side, and Paris and Brussels on the other.

A whole lot of weapons and ammunition were found in the apartement in Verviers. When special units of the police decided to invade the premises, in January last year, they met with fierce resistance. Police were fired at by two terrorist gang members, who got killed themselves in the operation.

9 of the 16 accused were not present on the opening day. It is assumed they are in Syria. Only 4 of those present today are still in custody. One of them is Marouan El Bali, the third man who was present in the premises raided by police in Verviers.

During the gun fight, El Bali jumped through the window. His lawyer Sébastien Courtoy wants him to be acquitted: "None of the policemen has seen him firing a gun, and no fingerprints of his, nor his DNA, was discovered on any of the weapons", he told reporters at the court room. 

"I travelled to Turkey to buy clothes"

Another suspect is Souhaib El Abdi. He is considered as one of the leaders of the gang. He knew the two killed terrorists well and travelled several times to Turkey in 2014. He denied any wrongdoing and minimised his part. "Yes, I knew the two men, but I didn't know they had adopted extremist ideas at that moment."

He added he went to Turkey to buy counterfeit fashion clothing and to go on holiday - not to pick up jihadists.

The Verviers gang has a strong link with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was probably the coordinator of the terrorist unit. He managed to escape to Greece, could not be caught, and is believed to have plotted the Paris attacks later on. Abaaoud was killed during a raid by French police in Paris.

Several similarities can be seen between the Verviers way of operating and the method used by the Paris-Brussels gangs plotting the terrorist attacks, e.g. how the gang members were picked up in rented cars, and how a safehouse was rentedto prepare attacks.