Paris attacks suspect admits to being "man with the hat" fugitive

Paris terrorism suspect Mohamed Abrini confessed Saturday to being the fugitive third attacker at the Brussels airport last month, Belgian prosecutors said a day after his arrest.

Abrini was seized alongside five others as part of the investigation into the suicide attacks on March 22 at the airport and a Brussels underground station that left 32 people dead.

Three other men were charged Saturday with serious terrorism-related offences in that context. Two were released.

Abrini confessed to his presence at the crime scene after being confronted with the results of expert examinations, the prosecution said in a statement.

Police had appealed to the public for information about the missing airport suspect, who became known as the "man with the hat" based on video surveillance images. They were particularly interested in finding a jacket he had discarded after leaving the airport.

"[Abrini] explained having thrown away his jacket in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterwards," the prosecution statement said.

Abrini was also charged on Saturday with terrorist murders and lead participation in the activities of a terrorist group, over his alleged role in the November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

His exact role in the Paris attacks is not known. He was spotted with key suspect Salah Abdeslam in the days before the attacks, and his fingerprints and DNA were found in a car used in the attacks, as well as at terrorist hideouts in Brussels.

The prosecution also confirmed that Osama K, who was also arrested Friday, was a second suspect present at the suicide blast in the Brussels underground carriage. Media had previously reported about a second metro attacker, but officials had not confirmed it.

Osama K had also been filmed at a shopping mall in central Brussels buying bags used in the airport attack, the prosecution said. He has been identified in Belgian media as Osama Krayem, a Swedish national.

He was charged with terrorist murders and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.

Two other men arrested on Friday - identified by the prosecution as Herve B M, a Rwandan national, and Bilal E M - were charged with complicity in terrorist murders and participation in the activities of a terrorist group, in connection with the Brussels attacks.

They are both suspected of offering assistance to Abrini and Osama K, the prosecution wrote in a statement, without giving details.

Belgian prosecutors had announced the arrest of five people on Friday. Local media first reported the sixth man earlier Saturday, naming him as Bilal El Makhoukhi, a suspect condemned last year in a mass trial against members of the terrorist group Sharia4Belgium.

El Makhoukhi had been sentenced to five years in prison but was released early, the Belgian broadcaster VRT and De Standaard newspaper reported.

Two people arrested with Abrini on Friday were released after "thorough interrogation," the prosecution said in a statement.

It further said that a raid was carried out Saturday on an apartment in the Brussels neighbourhood of Etterbeck that was "possibly used as a safe house by the terrorist group," in addition to searches Friday in a possible residence of Abrini, a residence of Herve B M and the home of Bilal E M.

No weapons or explosives were found on any of these premises.

Meanwhile, the Belgian government agreed early Saturday to increase its spending on security as well as supporting economic sectors hit by last month's terrorist attacks on Brussels, as it finalized its budget plans, the Belga news agency reported.

Last update: Sat, 09/04/2016 - 19:50
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