Skip to main content

Belgium identifies 'man in hat' at Brussels airport bombing

Abrini is charged with participation in activities of terrorist group and terrorist murders
Mohamed Abrini confessed to being the 'man in the hat', according to Belgian authorities (AFP)

Paris attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini was charged on Saturday with "terrorist murders" and confessed he was the man in the hat seen with the suicide bombers at Brussels airport, Belgian prosecutors said.

Another man was also charged with "terrorist murders" over the Brussels subway bombing as investigators linked more clearly than ever the militants involved in both France and Belgium's worst ever terror outrages, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Two other men suspected of helping them were charged with complicity after raids across Brussels on Friday that netted all four. Two others arrested with Abrini were released on 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. 

"He is charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders," it said in a statement.

In a later statement, prosecutors said "Abrini is indeed the third man present at the Brussels national airport attacks" after they confronted him with expert examinations that included closed circuit television footage.

"He said that he threw away his jacket in a rubbish bin and sold his hat after the attack," the statement said, according to the BBC.

Investigators said earlier that Abrini's fingerprints and DNA were found in two "safe houses" in Brussels, as well as in a car used during the Paris attacks, the BBC reported.

Abrini was arrested in the Brussels neighbourhood of Anderlecht, the prosecutor's spokesman said on Friday. 

Local television stations aired footage purportedly of Abrini's arrest, showing a man pinned to the ground by several armed plain-clothed police who then bundled him into an unmarked car.

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-coloured 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. 

Camera evidence

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 with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist muders," the statement said.

A Swedish link

Swedish media said Osama Krayem, 23, 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 neighbourhood of Brussels, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, said to have played a key role in Paris, along with Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested on 18 March. 

The Brussels attacks left a total of 32 people dead while the 13 November 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.

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 EU 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 BM, 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 EM was charged with participating in "the activities of a terrorist group and complicity in terrorist murders" over suspicions he helped Abrini and Krayem.