Brussels attacks: the long fight of a rider with both legs amputated

"We didn't think I would survive

Brussels attacks: the long fight of a rider with both legs amputated

"We didn't think I would survive." A 24-year-old professional rider, who had both legs amputated after the 2016 jihadist attacks in Brussels, told the Assize Court on Monday of her long fight to gradually return to life.

Four months in intensive care, including a period in a coma, around thirty operations, including skin transplants on the legs, hands and shoulders: the Franco-American Béatrice Lasnier de Lavalette has been through the ordeal since March 22, 2016.

That morning, the then 17-year-old athlete was about to board a flight to reunite with her family in the United States, when the departures hall of Brussels-Zaventem airport was targeted by a double suicide attack. to explosives.

The attack left 16 dead, a toll doubled an hour later with that perpetrated in the Belgian capital's metro. Over 300 people in total are injured.

Nearly seven years later, these attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group are worth nine men to be tried by the Brussels Assize Court. A tenth, presumed dead in Syria, is tried in his absence.

"I don't remember the explosion itself, only the darkness and being propelled from the ground" by its breath, began the young rider, after advancing to the bar in a wheelchair, white blouse under a pale pink jacket.

"Then I saw my leg forming a right angle and I understood," she added.

Béatrice Lasnier de Lavalette, seriously burned in the limbs, notices that rescuers are busy on several injured people around her, leaving her aside. She is forced to scream, raising her hand for help.

She will realize later that she was not a priority in the "triage" of emergency physicians. "I was labeled red, we didn't think I would survive," she says, sobs in her voice.

Unconscious at the time of being transported, she said she "woke up after a month in a coma in the hospital". "I couldn't conceive what had happened, I was seventeen and my life was over."

At the time, the young woman was completing her penultimate year of high school in Belgium. But, a rider since a very young age, she especially sees her future in high-level riding.

The attack will not deprive her of getting back on horseback and pursuing her dream.

Amputated with both legs "below the knees", she will undergo intense rehabilitation to regain her musculature, in particular in a specialized center in California normally reserved for seriously injured soldiers in the American army.

After "ups and downs", a period of depression, training postponed by the Covid pandemic, she joined the American equestrian team in 2021.

As he testifies, the room holds its breath. In the box of the accused, Mohamed Abrini, the "man in the hat", who gave up blowing himself up in Zaventem, listens, impassive, a fist under his chin.

"How are you feeling today?" the president asks the young woman.

- Today very well, she replies, I'm on a high right now. I worked a lot on my mind, I had to, without that I wouldn't be able to live".

With around a thousand civil parties claiming compensation for damage, this trial is the largest ever organized before an Assize Court in Belgium.

Opened at the beginning of December, it should last another four months or so. The next four weeks are devoted to the testimonies of survivors and relatives of the victims.

But lawyers have already warned that many of them would "not have the strength" to come and testify physically. Already, on Monday, certain testimonies were read by the president.

06/03/2023 19:30:48 - Bruxelles (AFP) - © 2023 AFP