Brussels terror cell originally intended to stage new attack in France, but struck in Brussels instead: Prosecutors

Belgian police and security personnel are seen during a search in Anderlecht district in Brussels.
Belgian police and security personnel are seen during a search in Anderlecht district in Brussels. PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSEL (AFP) - A Brussels-based terror cell intended to launch a fresh strike in France, but attacked in the Belgian capital instead after being "surprised" by a quick-moving investigation, Belgian prosecutors said on Sunday (April 10).

The cell, which was directly involved in the November attacks on Paris which killed 130 people, had initially planned to stage a second deadly strike in France, but they changed their plans as investigators closed in.

Instead, they staged coordinated attacks on Belgium's airport and the metro system, killing 32 last month.

"Numerous elements in the investigation have shown that the terrorist group initially had the intention to strike in France again," a statement from the federal prosecutor's office said.

"Surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels."

The prosecutor also said that Mohamed Abrini, the so-called "man in a hat" seen in CCTV footage from Brussels airport, who fled but was arrested on Friday, had been charged with "terrorist murders" over the Belgian bloodshed.

"The investigating judge specialised in terrorism cases has put Mohamed Abrini in detention in connection with the investigation into the Brussels and Zaventem (airport) attacks," a statement said. "He is charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempts to commit terrorist murders."

According to a report in the Belgian daily L'Echo, not confirmed by prosecutors, Abrini, who confessed on Saturday to being "the man in the hat" caught on video with suicide bombers at Brussels airport last month, saidthat he actually wanted to return to Paris for another attack but was spooked by the investigation and hastily decided to carry out the Brussels bombings.