Prosecution: Brussels terrorist group had planned new France attack

The perpetrators of last month's terrorist attacks on Brussels had in fact been planning a new attack on France but ran out of time, according to information gathered by investigators, the Belgian federal prosecution said Sunday.

The information emerged following the arrest on Friday of Paris terrorism suspect Mohamed Abrini, who later confessed to also being the fugitive third attacker in Brussels airport last month, where two others set off suicide bombs.

Following Abrini's arrest, new light has been shed on links between the attacks in Paris last November, in which 130 people died, and the March 22 suicide attacks in Brussels, which killed 32 people at the city's international airport and the Maelbeek underground station.

Last November, 130 people died in attacks on bars, restaurants, a sports stadium and a concert venue in Paris. On March 22, three suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels international airport and the city's Maelbeek underground station.

The attacks on the Belgian capital took place four days after the arrest there of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect sought in relation to the Paris attacks.

"Numerous elements in the investigation have shown that the terrorist group initially had the intention to strike in France again," the prosecution said in a statement.

"Eventually, surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels," it added.

Last month, a suspect named as Reda Kriket was arrested in France on allegations that he was in the advanced stages of planning a new terrorist attack in Paris. Others have been arrested in Brussels in this context, but investigators have been treating this as a separate case to the Brussels attacks.

Abrini, who became known as the "man with the hat" based on video surveillance images taken at the Brussels airport, was charged Sunday with terrorist murders, attempted terrorist murders and participation in the activities of a terrorist group in relation to the attacks in the Belgian capital.

The 31-year-old had previously been charged with similar terrorist offences relating to the attacks in Paris last November.

Abrini's 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.

Belgian police also arrested another key suspect in the Brussels attacks on Friday, a man they have identified as Osama K and suspected of having been present at the suicide bomb attack on the underground, at the city's Maelbeek station.

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, but that has not been officially confirmed.

Two other men arrested on Friday - identified by prosecutors as Herve B M, a Rwandan national, and Bilal E M - are suspected of offering assistance to Abrini and Osama K. They have been charged with complicity in terrorist murders.

Belgian media named one of the men as Bilal El Makhoukhi, a suspect condemned last year in a mass trial against members of the terrorist group Sharia4Belgium, but officials have not confirmed this.

Meanwhile Sunday, the Brussels public transport service announced that underground services would be extended as of Monday, with trains due to run at 51 of the city's 69 stations from 7 am until 9 pm (0500 until 1900 GMT). There has only been a partial service since the attacks.

Last week, Brussels public transport buses resumed their services to the airport, but trains are not yet stopping there. The airport has not yet returned to full operation.

Last update: Sun, 10/04/2016 - 18:25
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