Friday, April 8, 2016 8:35 pm
Mohamed Abrini, who was wanted for November’s Islamic State attacks in Paris, has been arrested in Brussels, Belgian public broadcasters said on Friday, adding that Abrini was probably involved in last month’s Brussels bombings.
Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian, was “more than likely” the “man in the hat” seen on security camera footage at Brussels airport on March 22 with two suicide bombers, VRT and RTBF said on their websites, citing unidentified sources.
Public prosecutors confirmed in a brief statement only that police had made several arrests related to the Brussels attacks. They scheduled a news conference for 9:30 p.m. (1930 GMT).
If confirmed, the arrests would mark a success for Belgian security services, which have faced fierce criticism at home and abroad since Brussels-based militants organised the attacks that killed 130 in Paris on Nov. 13.
The arrests came a day after police issued new images and detail on the “man in the hat”. They follow the arrest in Brussels on March 18 of a key surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam. He was seen driving with Abrini towards Paris two days before the Paris attacks.
Four days after Abdeslam was arrested, the brothers Brahim and Khalid El Bakraoui and a third local man, Najim Laachraoui, set off bombs that killed 32 people at Brussels airport and on a metro line running under European Union institutions.
VRT and RTBF said Abrini was probably the man disguised in heavy glasses and a floppy hat who was pictured with Brahim Bakraoui and Laachraoui moments before the two men blew themselves up at the airport.
A second suspect held on Friday was believed to be a man seen with Khalid Bakraoui at a metro station shortly before Bakraoui blew himself up on a train on the same line downtown.
VRT named the second man as Osama Kraiem and said he was believed to be the same person as Naim al-Hamed, who was seen on a wanted poster released by French police. Broadcasters said he had also been caught on CCTV buying holdalls at a downtown mall that were later used in the Brussels bombings.
Some media said he was a Swedish citizen based in Belgium.
Abrini was arrested in the borough of Anderlecht, VRT said, next to the western district of Molenbeek, which has been at the heart of Belgium’s troubles with Islamist militants.
He had been on Europe’s most wanted list since being seen on a motorway service station CCTV video driving with Abdeslam towards Paris from Belgium. The car they drove was used two days later in the attacks, in which Abdeslam’s elder brother was a suicide bomber.
The man in the hat left the airport shortly after the twin suicide bombings and was tracked on CCTV for several miles into the city centre. On Thursday, investigators released new video footage of him and urged people to look for his discarded coat.
He had been difficult to identify from the footage, which showed him pushing a laden luggage trolley alongside the two men who blew themselves up with similar bags. A third bomb was later found abandoned at the airport.