Brussels attacks: Suspected third bomber charged

Screengrab of Faycal Cheffou, one of the main suspects of the Brussels attacks, speaking in a video posted on YouTube in 2014.
Screengrab of Faycal Cheffou, one of the main suspects of the Brussels attacks, speaking in a video posted on YouTube in 2014. PHOTO: AFP/ YOUTUBE
A CCTV grab of a suspect in the Zaventem airport attack in Brussels, Belgium, provided by Belgian Federal Police on March 22, 2016.
A CCTV grab of a suspect in the Zaventem airport attack in Brussels, Belgium, provided by Belgian Federal Police on March 22, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

He is said to be man with hat, cream jacket in CCTV footage; hunt still on for ISIS militants

A man Belgian prosecutors believe to be the third bomber at Brussels Airport has been charged with terrorism as the hunt for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) operatives continues across European countries.

Faycal Cheffou is said to be the man pictured in closed-circuit TV footage wearing a hat and a cream jacket. He is seen pushing a luggage trolley alongside Ibrahim el- Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, who blew themselves up last Tuesday.

Sounding a warning that the terror threat remains, French President Francois Hollande reminded countries that while the ISIS network behind the Paris and Brussels attacks is "in the process of being destroyed", there are others. "We have had some results in finding the terrorists and, in Brussels as well as Paris, there have been a number of arrests and we know that there are other networks," he said on Friday.

"Even if the one that committed the attacks in Paris and Brussels is in the process of being destroyed... there is still a heavy threat."

The terror attacks in Paris last November left 130 people dead. In Brussels, the bombings at its international airport and a metro station killed 31 people and injured over 300. 

The Belgian authorities have conducted a series of raids since Thursday and made at least seven arrests.

Cheffou, who had been on the run since last Tuesday's attacks, was arrested on Thursday night in Brussels, while standing outside the federal prosecutor's office.

Belgian media, citing reliable sources, has pointed to him as the suspected terrorist that police were hunting for, although this has not been confirmed by the authorities. Some media reports have said he was a freelance journalist. A search was carried out at his home, but no arms or explosives were found.

Besides Cheffou, two other men - identified as Aboubakar A. and Rabah N. - arrested late last week were also charged in connection with terrorism activities yesterday.

Police also identified the man they shot at a tram stop in the neighbourhood of Schaerbeek on Friday as Abderahmane Ameroud.

But jitters remain in the Belgian capital. Yesterday morning, armed police surrounded a tram near the Brussels-North railway station in Schaerbeek after a suspicious package was thrown onto the tram. It turned out to be a false alarm, but only after the police had cordoned off the area and diverted trams.

Public transport in Brussels remains affected, with metro lines shutting early and certain stations closed. Brussels Airport is not expected to open before Tuesday and certain new security measures will be implemented.

Belgian broadcaster RTBF yesterday reported that ISIS issued two videos on Friday warning that the "nightmare" of the Brussels attacks "had only just begun", according to Xinhua news agency.

The videos, sent to Belgian newspaper Le Soir, show two militants demanding that Western governments withdraw their troops from Syria and Iraq, RTBF reported.

"Tell them to withdraw their planes and soldiers and you will live in peace," one of them says in a video. "Remember my message a year ago when it was announced that we would attack Paris and Brussels. We have achieved that and we have other targets."

Analysts say the death of ISIS' No. 2, who was killed in a United States air strike about a week ago, dealt a heavy blow to the group. Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also known as Haji Iman, is believed to oversee the group's finances, politics and administration, Reuters reported, quoting sources.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 27, 2016, with the headline 'Brussels attacks: Suspected third bomber charged'. Print Edition | Subscribe