updated 3/3/2004 1:05:38 PM ET 2004-03-03T18:05:38

A man accused in the gruesome abuse and killing of young girls in Belgium in the mid-1990s testified Wednesday that he raped two of them, but denied killing anyone and said he was part of a larger child sex network.

The case of Marc Dutroux and three alleged accomplices has shocked and angered Belgium. Allegations of police ineptness have added to the outrage.

Dutroux, testifying on the third day of his trial, drew gasps from the packed courtroom when he admitted and described raping Laetitia Delhez, then 14, and Sabine Dardenne, then 12. Both girls survived.

Dutroux said he had “consensual” sex with Eefje Lambrecks, who was then 19. He described her as “a very nice girl” and denied killing her, An Marchal, then 17, or Bernard Weinstein, an associate.

“I cannot accept all responsibility, but take responsibility for the role I played,” he said in a tense question and answer session with Judge Stephane Goux.

'Big crime ring'
Dutroux said he acted on behalf of a “big crime ring” when he snatched the six girls in Belgium and held them hostage between the summers of 1995 and 1996.

“Nihoul wanted the girls,” he said of Michel Nihoul, a co-defendant. On hearing his name, Nihoul grabbed a phone to call his lawyer from the defendants’ box.

Weinstein’s body was found in a garden behind Dutroux’ home in the central Belgian town of Sars-la-Buissiere Aug. 17, 1996. The same day, police found also the bodies of Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, both 8, who disappeared June 24, 1995.

Dutroux entered no plea, which is possible in Belgium. Belgian law requires defendants to take the stand and answer questions from the judge, but they are not under oath.

Aggravating the pain of victims’ families has been shoddy police work that let a previously convicted child rapist operate unchecked.

Dutroux received a 13-year prison term in 1989 for abducting and raping several young women, including a minor. Paroled in 1995, he allegedly returned to kidnapping, abusing and killing girls.

Dutroux was allegedly helped by his ex-wife, Michelle Martin, 44, who authorities say sometimes drove the kidnap van; Michel Lelievre, 32, and Nihoul, a 62-year-old Brussels lawyer.

Dutroux, Martin and Lelievre were arrested Aug. 13, 1996, a week after Delhez disappeared. Dutroux’ van was spotted near a swimming pool where she was last seen.

Bodies of four girls found
Delhez and Dardenne were rescued from Dutroux’s cellar on Aug. 15, 1996. Police found the bodies of four girls in two different backyard graves Aug. 17 and Sept. 3, 1996. Two are believed to have been drugged and buried alive.

He denied kidnapping Lejeune and Russo, the two 8-year-olds who went missing in mid-1995. But he said he took the blame partly because “I tried to protect my wife and tried to diminish her involvement.”

He said Weinstein sexually abused Russo and when she and Lejeune were held in Dutroux’s cellar.

Prosecutors believe they starved to death because Dutroux’ wife neglected to feed them when Dutroux was in prison for car theft for four months in early 1996.

More than 100 people lined up in the cold early hours to vie for one of 50 standing room places in the public gallery.

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