Paris terror attack suspect nabbed in Belgian raid

(Above) Police officers are seen detaining a suspect during a raid in Anderlecht, near Brussels, last Friday in this still image taken from video footage.
(Above) Police officers are seen detaining a suspect during a raid in Anderlecht, near Brussels, last Friday in this still image taken from video footage. PHOTOS: REUTERS

Police verifying if he was the man seen with 2 suicide bombers before Brussels airport attack

BRUSSELS • A suspect in the Paris terror attacks, Mohamed Abrini, has been arrested along with five other people in a series of raids linked to the deadly Brussels airport and metro bombings, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

The arrests last Friday mark an important step in the investigation into the cell believed to have carried out both the Nov 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris and the March 22 bombings that left 32 dead in Brussels.

Both attacks were claimed by terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sending off alarm bells across Europe.

"Mohamed Abrini was arrested in Anderlecht", a gritty Brussels neighbourhood, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office told a news conference in the Belgian capital.

The police operation in Anderlecht ended shortly before 11pm (5am Singapore time yesterday), according to media reports.


Abrini (above) was seen at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the attacks in the French capital with the other top suspect, Salah Abdeslam. PHOTOS: REUTERS

RTL television showed footage of what it said was likely Abrini's arrest, with a man pinned down on the pavement by several armed plain-clothes police wearing facemasks and then being bundled into a grey civilian car.

Abrini, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, was seen at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the attacks in France with the other top suspect, Salah Abdeslam, who drove one of the vehicles used in the bomb and gun assault across the French capital.

Abdeslam, whose brother Brahim blew himself up in Paris, fled back to Brussels immediately afterwards and was finally captured on March 18 in the capital, just round the corner from his family's home in Molenbeek district.

He is now awaiting extradition to France.

Immediately after the Brussels attacks, there was intense speculation that Abrini was the third man seen on CCTV with the two suicide bombers at the airport shortly before they blew themselves up.

A police video released on Thursday showed this third man, wearing a hat and a light-coloured jacket, fleeing the scene and making his way back on foot into central Brussels, where he disappeared from view.

"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 (Zaventem), the so- called 'man with the hat'," the spokesman said.

The Belgian prosecutor's office had said on Friday that five people, including Abrini, were arrested in the raids, but the spokesman confirmed yesterday that a sixth was being held.

In the wake of intense criticism that at one point made him offer to resign, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon sent a tweet congratulating "all the police and security services as well as the prosecutors" for Friday's arrests.

But he added: "The fight against terrorism continues."

Belgian police conducted a search of an apartment complex in the central Brussels district of Etterbeek yesterday after evacuating the building's residents.

The building, which has a shop on the ground floor, was cordoned off by police and forensics experts entered the premises. Police said snipers had also been deployed.

However, no arrests were made.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Paris terror attack suspect nabbed in Belgian raid'. Print Edition | Subscribe