Seven alleged members of a cell linked to the group of Islamic State (Isis) militants responsible for deadly terror attacks in Brussels and Paris went on trial on Monday.
The defendants are part of a group of 16 alleged extremists that was smashed when police raided a house in Verviers, eastern Belgium, in January, 2015. Nine of the suspects remain on the run and will be tried in absentia.
Investigators believe that the cell was run by Isis (Daesh) militant Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who planned the 13 November Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed. Abaaoud was killed in a subsequent police raid in the Saint Denis area of Paris days after the attacks.
He is believed to have contacted the cell from Greece.
Lawyers for some of the accused claimed on Monday that their clients were innocent.
Belgian police raided the Verviers apartment on 15 January 15, just a week after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a kosher supermarket in Paris. In the ensuing gun battle, two suspects were killed and a third was arrested.
Police allege members of the group had returned from Syria, and were poised to launch a terror attack.
"The group was on the verge of carrying out terrorist attacks, to kill police officers in public roads and in police stations," federal magistrate Eric Van der Sijpt told a news conference following the raid, reported France 24.
In the raid police found Kalashnikov assault rifles, explosives and ammunition. They also found several police uniforms which could have been worn by members of the cell during an attack.
Among those standing trial is Marouane El Bali, arrested in the raid on the Verviers address. The two Belgians, five Frenchmen, a Moroccan and a Dutchman – being tried in absentia – are also presumed to have travelled to Syria, or to be in hiding or to be deceased.
El Bali's lawyers claim he was not aware of any planned terror attacks. Fellow defendants Souhaib El Abdi, Mohamed Arshad and Omar Damache will be detained in custody during the trial.
Three others have been released on bail during the trial.
All four in custody are charged with attempting to form a terrorist group. El Bali is also charged with attempting to kill a police officer during the police raid. His lawyer, Didier de Quevy, said his client had no criminal links with the other accused.