Mohamed Abrini, a key figure in the Paris attacks, on Saturday April 9, confessed to being the man in the hat seen with the suicide bombers at Brussels airport. He has been charged with “terrorist murders”, Belgian prosecutors said.
Another man was also charged with “terrorist murders” over the Brussels metro bombing as investigators linked more clearly than ever the militants involved in both France and Belgium’s worst ever terror outrages, claimed by ISIL.
Two other men suspected of helping them were charged with complicity following raids across Brussels on Friday that netted all four. Two others arrested with Abrini were released on Saturday.
“The investigating judge specialised in terrorism cases who is in charge of the investigation into the Paris attacks … has put Mohamed Abrini in detention,” the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said. “He is charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders.”
“Abrini is indeed the third man present at the Brussels national airport attacks” the prosecutors said later after they confronted him with expert examinations that included closed circuit television footage.
“He confessed his presence at the crime scene. He explained having thrown away his vest [jacket] in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterward,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Abrini was arrested in the Brussels neighbourhood of Anderlecht. Local television stations aired footage of Abrini’s arrest, showing a man pinned to the ground by several armed plain-clothed police who then bundled him into an unmarked car.
Abrini, a Belgian of Moroccan origin and the last known Paris suspect still at large, was seen at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the attacks with Salah Abdeslam who is now awaiting extradition to France.
Belgian police on Thursday released a video showing a man wearing a hat and light-coloured jacket who was seen with the two suicide bombers in the departure hall.
While they blew themselves up, he fled and made his way on foot back to central Brussels, appearing calm and composed before disappearing.
The two airport bombers have been identified as Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, believed to be the cell’s bomb maker. Ibrahim’s brother Khalid blew himself up at Maalbeek metro station not far from the European Union quarter in Brussels.
Osama Krayem has been identified as the man seen on closed circuit television with Khalid El Bakraoui moments before the latter blew himself up at the Malbeek station, prosecutors said. Krayem is also the one caught on camera buying bags used to conceal the bombs set off by the two airport bombers, they added.
The investigating judge has “charged him with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders,” the statement said.
Swedish media said Osama Krayem, 23, who grew up in the southern city of Malmo, and published photographs of him holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle in front of an ISIL flag said to have been taken in Syria.
In both the Paris and Brussels massacres, several of the suspects came from the largely-immigrant Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, said to have played a key role in Paris, along with Salah Abdeslam who was arrested on March 18.
The Brussels attacks killed 32 people while the November 13 Paris automatic rifle attacks and suicide bombings killed 130 people across the French capital. Hundreds more were wounded in each event.
Abdeslam himself took part in the Paris attacks but unlike his brother Brahim, who blew himself up, he escaped and fled back to Brussels, eluding a vast police dragnet for four months.
The Belgian authorities have faced intense criticism over their handling of the attacks as it emerged many of the suspects were known to police for a long time.
Critics say the government has not done enough to prevent radicalisation of Muslim youth in areas such as Molenbeek, with Belgium proportionately the biggest source in the European Union of foreign fighters going to join ISIL in Syria. Evidence linking the attacks in the two cities deepened further Saturday.
Another suspect who was arrested on Friday was identified as 25-year-old Rwandan national Herve B.M., who is “suspected of having offered assistance” to both Abrini and Krayem, prosecutors said. He is charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist group and “complicity in terrorist murders,” it said.
It added that 27-year-old Bilal E.M. was charged with participating in “the activities of a terrorist group and complicity in terrorist murders” over suspicions he helped Abrini and Krayem.