brussels raid police army terrorist.jpg
Photograph: EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

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.

Latest news

Earthquake rocks buildings in northern Zambia; no injuries reported

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Zambia and neighbouring countries early Friday, the US Geological Survey reported.

China overtook US, France as Germany's top trading partner in 2016

China overtook the United States as Germany's biggest trading partner in 2016, according to data provided by the Federal Statistics Office on Friday.

Orban upset by end of Budapest 2024 bid; IOC to ponder adjustments

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday reiterated his regret about the end of his nation's Olympic dream while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could further revise future bid campaigns in the wake of Budapest's withdrawal.

Italy seizes millions from dodgy Rome businessman

Italian police on Friday seized assets worth 40 million euros (42.4 million dollars) from a Rome businessman who falsely claimed residence in Dubai to dodge taxes.

UN, HRW workers in crosshairs as Israel cites bias, Hamas membership

The United Nations on Friday rejected Israeli claims that one of its aid workers in the Palestinian Territories is a "terrorist" who belongs to the radical Islamist Hamas movement.

Consulates deny telling teachers, parents to denounce Erdogan critics

Turkish consulates in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia on Friday dismissed allegations that they instructed teachers and parents to denounce critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Source: Le Pen defied police summons in assistants' pay enquiry

Marine Le Pen failed to appear for a summons for police questioning on Wednesday, a source close to the investigations has told dpa.

Iraqi forces claim key Mosul base, enter first western district

Iraqi forces seized a major military base from Islamic State on Friday and stormed the first district in the western section of Mosul, part of their campaign to dislodge the radical group from its last key Iraqi stronghold, a senior commander said.

BASF sales down 18 per cent due to Gazprom asset swap

German chemicals giant BASF said Friday that its revenues decreased by 18 per cent, to 57.6 billion euros (60.9 billion dollars), in 2016, due mainly to a multibillion-euro asset swap with Gazprom, Russia's state-backed gas group.

New Delhi shocked at reports of Indian national dead in US shooting

India was in shock and dismay Friday at the news of the death of an Indian engineer in an alleged racially motivated killing in the United States earlier this week.

42 killed in car bombing in Syria's al-Bab, monitor says

At least 42 people are dead after a car bombing in Syria's northern city of al-Bab on Friday, a day after Turkish-backed rebels seized control of the city from the Islamic State extremist militia, a monitoring group reported.

Car bombing kills at least eight soldiers in Yemen

At least eight government soldiers died in a Friday car bombing in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan, a local security official said.