Terror trial opens in Belgium

A trial of 18 men charged with membership to a militant Islamic group linked to deadly bomb attacks in Spain and Morocco opened Thursday - the first case to reach court under Belgium's new, tougher anti-terror laws. The trial, taking place under heavy security at Brussels' Palace of Justice, is the first terror case to reach the courtroom since a 2004 law made it a crime to associate with terrorists.

Thursday's opening session was administrative, dealing with what language the trial should be conducted in. The judge and lawyers agreed it would be French, a court official said. Opening statements will be presented Nov. 16, the AP reports.

None of the defendants is accused of actively taking part in any terrorist attacks in Belgium, but some face charges of providing terrorists with forged identity papers, shelter and other logistical support. They face five years in prison if convicted of belonging to a terrorist organization and 10 years if convicted of playing a coordinating role in aiding terrorists.

Several of the defendants arrived in court by police escort with masks over their heads to hide their identities. Only the 13 who are in Belgian custody appeared at a hearing Thursday. Three others are in Spanish custody facing terrorism charges there while the two others are in Syrian and Moroccan jails for alleged links to terrorists.

It was unclear whether those five will be extradited to Belgium. A.M.

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