'Euro 2016 target of Brussels attackers'

Armed patrols are a common sight at the Brussels airport since suicide bombers claimed 32 lives when they blew themselves up there and at a metro station in the city on March 22.
Armed patrols are a common sight at the Brussels airport since suicide bombers claimed 32 lives when they blew themselves up there and at a metro station in the city on March 22. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Police investigating claims made by the captured 'man in the hat'

BRUSSELS • The terrorist cell behind the attacks on Paris and Brussels planned to target the Euro 2016 football championships in France, one of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) operatives captured in Brussels has told interrogators.

According to French newspaper Liberation and CNN, Mohamed Abrini - the "man in the hat" seen on CCTV accompanying the suicide bombers involved in the terror strike at Brussels airport - explained that the initial intention of the Franco-Belgian terrorist group was to go into action during the Euro tournament.

Abrini's claims are being verified by investigators, a source told CNN.

The Euro 2016 tournament, scheduled to take place in France from June 10 to July 10, is one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world and there were already fears about security.

In one of the Paris attacks last Nov 13, three terrorists carried out suicide bombings outside the national stadium while France was playing Germany. They had tried but failed to enter the stadium.

The Belgian prosecutor's office had earlier said the terrorists were planning another strike in France, but had changed their plans when they discovered that the police were moving swiftly in their investigation after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, thought to be the last surviving Paris attacker.

A computer used by two of the Brussels attackers and found in a garbage bin outside the group's bomb factory has been found to contain a 16-minute audio file of two people discussing future attacks against specific targets in France and Belgium.

Meanwhile, a computer used by two of the Brussels attackers and found in a garbage bin outside the group's bomb factory has been found to contain a 16-minute audio file of two people discussing future attacks against specific targets in France and Belgium.

The conversation included discussions on when and where to carry out the attacks, how many members of the cell should take part, and how many should remain in reserve for future strikes, CNN reported.

According to investigators, one of the voices was that of Najim Laachraoui, the cell's suspected bomb-maker who blew himself up at the Brussels airport. The other person is believed to be a senior ISIS operative in Syria.

The computer was used by Brussels attackers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui. One of the files indicate that La Defense shopping mall in Paris and a Catholic association were additional potential targets.

Belgium has charged two more men with terrorist offences over alleged links to the rental of a property thought to have been used as a safe house before the Brussels attacks, federal prosecutors said yesterday, Reuters reported.

They identified the two men charged on Monday as Smail F., born in 1984, and Ibrahim F., born in 1988, and did not say when they were detained.

Under Belgian law, suspects usually need to appear before an examining judge within 24 hours. That brought to six the total of suspects caught and charged since late last week as a result of investigations following the March 22 bombings in Brussels that killed 32 people.

"They are charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempts to commit terrorist murders, as a perpetrator, co-perpetrator or accomplice," prosecutors said of the latest two to be charged.

Police raided the suspected safe house in the central Brussels district of Etterbeek last Saturday, but found no weapons or explosives.

Belgian newspaper DH said the two men had been seen on security camera footage entering the house the day after the attacks and carrying out several bags.

Prosecutors were not available for comment on the DH report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline ''Euro 2016 target of Brussels attackers''. Print Edition | Subscribe