Trial opens in death of toddler in migrant smuggling case

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BRUSSELS (AP) — A trial opened Monday in the shooting death of a two-year-old toddler who was in a van during a high-speed chase between police and suspected migrant smugglers seeking to get to Britain.

At the trial in Belgium's southern city of Mons, a policeman stands accused of involuntary manslaughter and two other men for being suspected migrant smugglers.

In May 2018, police wanted to check a suspicious van making its way through Belgium and when the vehicle sought to escape, police went after it. During the chase, police shot at the van and two-year-old Kurdish girl Mawda Shawri was hit in the head and later died.

Belgian authorities said a shot was fired to stop the car and had no intention to target the people inside. Her death has since become a symbol of injustice toward migrants fleeing their homes seeking a better life in wealthy Europe.

Outside the courthouse, a few dozen people were standing with banners reading “Justice for Mawda."

The trial will center on the shot fired during the high-speed chase and to what extent it was necessary to seek to bring the car to a stop in that way. In all, 30 people were in the van, including Mawda's brother and parents.

The policeman faces up to two years in prison. The suspected smugglers face up to 30 years in prison.

Among those who have supported the “Justice For Mawda" cause on social media are musicians Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters and British director Ken Loach.

“These are people who are fleeing terror, frightened for their lives, freeing across Europe, the most exploited, the most endangered people — the poorest most vulnerable people we can imagine," Loach said, arguing such people should not be shot at.