Belgium charges ‘man in hat’ from airport bombing with murder
Mohamed Abrini confirmed as third attacker in Brussels blast, also linked to Paris terror assaults last November
The Federal Prosecution Office in Brussels said it can confirm that arrested terror suspect Mohamed Abrini was the third man present at Brussels Airport during the March 22 suicide bombings at the Zaventem departures hall.
He was charged Saturday with “terrorist murders,” Belgian prosecutors said, after also being sought in connection with November’s attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed.
“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 federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Authorities have been frantically seeking the “man in the hat” ever since he was filmed alongside the two bombers just before the airport attack that killed 16 people. Belgian authorities recently released more footage of the man leaving the airport in the wake of the bombings, walking down sidewalks and past a hotel.
Abrini was arrested Friday in Brussels in a police raid.
Another man was also charged with “terrorist murders” over the Brussels subway bombing as investigators linked more clearly than ever the jihadists involved in both France and Belgium’s worst ever terror attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group.
Two other men suspected of helping both of them were charged with complicity following raids across Brussels on Friday that netted all four. Two others arrested with Abrini were released Saturday.
“The investigating judge specialized 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.
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-colored 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 (Osama Krayem) with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders,” the statement said.
A Swedish link?
Swedish media identified 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 IS 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 neighborhood 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 left a total of 32 people dead 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 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 IS in Syria.
Two charged with complicity
Evidence linking the attacks in the two cities deepened further Saturday.
Another suspect who was arrested 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 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.