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More Suspects in Brussels Attacks Arrested in Belgium
The Belgian authorities said Friday evening that one of the five people arrested earlier in the day in connection with the March 22 attacks in Brussels was a fugitive who is suspected of playing a significant role in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.
That suspect, Mohamed Abrini, 31, was arrested on Place Albert in the Anderlecht section of Brussels after a nearly five-month international manhunt, Eric Van der Sijpt, a spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor's office, said at a news conference in Brussels, the Belgian capital. Two people were arrested with Mr. Abrini; their names were not made public.
What role Mr. Abrini may have played in the Paris attacks is still unclear, but he is suspected of providing logistical help to the assailants who killed 130 people in and around Paris in November, and an arrest warrant was issued for him.
After the arrest on March 18 of Salah Abdeslam, who is thought to be the sole survivor who directly participated in the shootings and bombings in Paris, Mr. Abrini became the most wanted man in connection with them.
The latest arrests again raised the question of how a suspect whose identity and appearance were known and circulated widely could manage to evade the Belgian authorities for months.
Mr. Abrini, whose description was released by the Belgian authorities 10 days after the Paris attacks, appears to have spent at least a part of that time less than three miles from his home in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, like Mr. Abdeslam, who was arrested after four months on the run.
A second and more worrying lesson from Friday's arrests was that yet more people surfaced who have not yet been in the official accounts but seem to be connected to the network of jihadis in Belgium and in France, a network whose full size is not known.
Mr. Abrini, who grew up in Molenbeek with Mr. Abdeslam, was with the Paris assailants in the days and hours before the attacks.
He accompanied Mr. Abdeslam on a trip to Paris on Nov. 11, two days before the attacks, and was seen on surveillance footage at a gas station on a highway leading to Paris. He returned to Brussels and drove again to Paris on Nov. 12 with Salah Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim.
Mr. Van der Sijpt said that Mr. Abrini's fingerprints and DNA were found in the car used during those trips and in an apartment on Rue Henri Bergé in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels, where investigators say they believe explosive vests used in the Paris attacks were made.
Mr. Van der Sijpt also said that Mr. Abrini's fingerprints and DNA were found in a Schaerbeek apartment on Rue Max Roos. The three Brussels airport attackers left from that apartment by taxi on the morning of the attacks, and investigators later found large quantities of explosives and bomb-making equipment.
Although this suggests that Mr. Abrini was involved in the Brussels plot, Mr. Van der Sijpt did not confirm that Mr. Abrini was the third and as yet unidentified bomber, as some Belgian news media reported. The two others, who died when they detonated their explosives at 7:58 a.m. in the departures hall at the airport, have been identified as Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, the suspected bombmaker.
A little over an hour after the airport bombings, a third suicide bomber, Khalid el-Bakraoui, Ibrahim's brother, detonated explosives at the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels. Over all, the attacks in Brussels killed 32 people and wounded more than 340.
"At the moment, the investigators are verifying whether Abrini can be positively identified as being the third person present during the attacks in Brussels National Airport, the so-called man with the hat," Mr. Van der Sijpt said, referring to the suspect's attire on the day of the bombings. The suspect was wearing a dark hat and white jacket, which he later discarded.
Of the five people arrested on Friday, Mr. Van der Sijpt said, two were connected with the attacks in Paris, including Mr. Abrini. The second, identified as Osama K., was using the alias Naim al-Ahmed.
"The investigation into the Paris attacks has shown that Osama K. was picked up in Ulm, Germany, and brought to Belgium on Oct. 3rd, 2015, with a rental car hired by Salah Abdeslam," Mr. Van der Sijpt said.
But Mr. Van der Sijpt added that it was unclear whether Osama K. was also the person who was seen with the subway bomber before the attacks. That person was also filmed at a mall in Brussels buying bags that were used in the airport attacks, Mr. Van der Sijpt said.
Few details were provided about the other three taken into custody: One was identified only as Hervé B.M., and the others were not named.
On Thursday the Belgian police had released new surveillance footage of the third airport suspect and had renewed an appeal to the public for help identifying him.
The Belgian federal prosecutor, Frédéric Van Leeuw, had said that the third assailant at the airport had dropped off a large bag filled with explosives before leaving, but that the explosives detonated after a bomb disposal squad arrived after the attacks, hurting no one.
[Source: By Aurelien Breeden, The New York Times, Paris, 08Apr16]
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|This document has been published on 11Apr16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|