A former security employee at Brussels' Zaventem Airport took the floor this week in Belgium’s biggest trial to describe how the 2016 suicide bombings had a crushing effect on her mental health.
Riffi Khaddouj, 63, on Tuesday told the court that she initially returned to work a few days after the ISIS-claimed bombings that killed 32 people and injured 324 others at the airport and in the Belgian capital's metro.
At the time she went back to work, the airport was still under repair due to extensive damage caused by the two suicide attacks in its departure halls.
But she quit a month and a half later when her trauma was rekindled by a colleague’s car accident. “I then stayed for two years on my couch, lying down,” said Ms Khaddouj, quoted by Belgium’s news agency Belga.
Ms Khaddouj, a former director, said that she is unable to write any more, suffers from frequent memory losses and is in poor physical health. “I sit in front of the TV all day. I do nothing else.”
Ms Khaddouj said she would not be alive without her three daughters' support. “Thank God they were there, because I tried to commit suicide three times. I cannot help them, despite them needing me today,” she said.
Ms Khaddouj did not mention physical injuries caused by the attacks.
Several other victims who have spoken in Belgium’s biggest trial, which started in December and is expected to last close to a year, described similar mental anguish. Victims started testifying earlier this month.
Also quoted by Belga, Sylvie Ingels, 50, said she was in the airport, returning from a holiday in Thailand with her husband and friends, when the attack occurred.
She described herself as a formerly cheery personality who, since the attacks, is unable to leave her house and suffers from migraines, dizziness and partial face paralysis.
Ms Ingels said she does not allow her children to take public transport or go to the cinema because she fears for their lives.
“The terrorists did not kill me physically, but psychologically, yes,” she said.
Ms Ingels, who converted to Islam 20 years ago, warned the defendants, some of whom were present in court during the testimonies, against extreme interpretations of religion.
“Do not confuse this beautiful religion and the horrible acts committed by those fanatics,” she said, seemingly referring to ISIS.
Yet some were able to show empathy for the defendants. “May God forgive them,” said Ms Khaddouj.