Belgian Police Arrest A Key Suspect In Terrorism Attacks

April 8, 2016

Nearly five months after a “wanted” bulletin tied him to the Paris terrorist attacks, Mohamed Abrini has been arrested in Belgium. Public broadcaster RTBF also says Abrini may be the “man in the hat” wanted in connection to last month’s bombings in Brussels.

U.S. and Belgian officials say Abrini and “another suspect” were arrested at a metro station in Anderlecht, which is close to the Free University of Brussels, NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston reports.

Belgian prosecutors made an official announcement of Abrini’s arrest late Friday, local time, with spokesman Thierry Werts saying that police are “continuing to determine” whether Abrini, 31, is also the “man in the hat” — a suspect wearing a white raincoat and a fishing hat, who has been wanted for questioning since security cameras showed him walking alongside two suicide bombers at the Brussels airport.

Dina reports:

“U.S. and Belgian officials also told NPR that they have at least four more people they are looking for as possible accomplices in the attacks. That’s meaningful because after Salah Abdeslam was arrested, members of his cell moved up the timetable of the Brussels attacks. U.S. and Belgian officials believe the March 22 attacks were supposed to happen either Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. The concern now is that with the arrest of these two suspects, the remaining members of the cell will launch another attack.”

News of Abrini’s arrest comes one day after the government released a video in which they reconstructed the movements made by the man from the airport, with police laying out his motions in the city for some two hours after the bombs exploded.

Saying that three terrorism suspects were arrested Friday, RTBF named one of the suspects as Osama Krayem, who was reportedly seen with the suicide bomber who targeted a subway train on the same morning as the airport attack.

Flanders News, an arm of the state Flemish broadcaster VRT, says of Abrini:

“Mohamed Abrini is one of the key suspects in the terror investigation(s) and has a heavy criminal record. He spent time in jail for armed robbery and is considered as dangerous. Abrini is a childhood friend of the Abdeslam brothers. Brahim Abdeslam blew himself up in the Paris terrorist attacks, while Salah Abdeslam, who was on the run after Paris, was arrested in Molenbeek a couple of weeks ago.

“Two days before the Paris attacks Abrini was seen together with Salah Abdeslam, as he drove his friend to the French capital. They were photographed at a filling station in Ressons along the motorway bound for Paris. The two suspects were using a Renault Clio that was employed during the attacks and later recovered in the city.”

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