'I didn't think I'd survive': first Brussels attack victim testifies

A teenage girl who lost both her legs in a 2016 Brussels suicide bombing, and fought back to become a Paralympian, was the first victim to testify on Monday at the trial of those accused of plotting or aiding the attacks.

French-American equestrian Beatrice Lasnier de Lavalette, 24, now uses a wheelchair after surviving a coma, months in intensive care, 30 operations and skin transplants on her legs, hands, and shoulders.

Aged 17 on March 22, 2016, she was getting ready to board a flight to visit her family across the Atlantic when a double suicide attack tore through the departures hall.

The blast killed 16 people, a death toll that was set to double an hour later when another explosion hit the Brussels metro.

In total over 300 people were wounded in the attacks claimed by the jihadists of the Islamic State group.

"I don't remember the explosion itself, I remember the darkness and being bumped off the ground," Lasnier de Lavalette told the court, describing how her leg was twisted at a right angle.

"After seeing my leg I realised what had happened. I was 17 and my life was over."

The young athlete, seriously burned all over her body, realised rescuers were focused on treating the other injured victims, considered more likely to survive.

"I was labelled red, they didn't think I'd survive," she sobbed.

Already unconscious by the time she was taken to hospital, Lasnier de Lavalette said: "I kept saying I just want to go to sleep, somebody told me you cannot sleep.

"After that it was just darkness and I lost consciousness. The next memory I have is waking up after a month-long coma at hospital."

At the time of the attacks, Lasnier de Lavalette was completing her penultimate year of high school in Belgium.

Having ridden horses since childhood, she hoped for a future as a professional equestrian.

Despite the attack, she fought back and continued to pursue her ambitions.

In 2021, she achieved her goal and represented the United States in the dressage event at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Nine defendants are facing justice at Belgium's biggest-ever criminal trial at a purpose-built space in the disused former headquarters of the NATO alliance. A 10th suspect is believed to have been killed in Syria.

The prime suspect is Salah Abdeslam, who is already notorious after being convicted in a separate trial in France for his role in 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Hundreds of other survivors and relatives of those who died are expected to follow Lasnier de Lavalette in giving their testimonies.

The trial is set to run until June.