Suspect charged over Paris attacks

Mohamed Abrini (left) was caught on security cameras (right) with the suicide bombers in the Brussels airport attack last year. He also had been seen with prime suspect Salah Abdeslam before the Paris terror attacks in 2015.
Mohamed Abrini (left) was caught on security cameras (right) with the suicide bombers in the Brussels airport attack last year. He also had been seen with prime suspect Salah Abdeslam before the Paris terror attacks in 2015. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Belgian national also said to be key figure in Brussels bombings

PARIS • Mohamed Abrini, the "man in the hat" bombing suspect caught on security cameras during the Brussels airport attack, has been charged in France over the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, his lawyers said yesterday.

Belgium handed Abrini over to the French authorities for a day so that he could face charges related to the deaths of 130 people in the French capital.

The 32-year-old was taken under armed guard to the Palais de Justice in Paris where he was charged by an investigating magistrate.

A Belgian national of Moroccan origin, Abrini was arrested in Brussels last April over his suspected involvement in the March 22 Brussels attacks and the Paris killings, both of which were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group.

Belgian investigators have said the Brussels airport and metro station bombers, who killed 32 people, were part of the same Brussels-based cell that orchestrated the Paris attacks.

Dubbed the "man in the hat" from images caught on security cameras, Abrini fled Brussels airport without detonating his suitcase bomb, prosecutors say.

His accomplices Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui set off their explosives, killing 16 people and themselves.

The Belgian authorities have already charged Abrini over the Paris massacres, leading his lawyers to complain that he risks being tried twice for the same acts.

Two days before the attacks, he was seen at a petrol station north of Paris with prime suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Abdeslam is believed to be the only survivor of the team behind the carnage at the Bataclan concert hall, the national stadium and a handful of bars and cafes.

Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national, is suspected of driving one of the vehicles used in the attacks.

He is in custody in France, where he is refusing to answer questions from investigators.

The federal prosecutor's office in Belgium confirmed that Abrini had been "surrendered" to the French authorities for a day "in the framework of the investigation related to the attacks in Paris on Nov 13, 2015". Spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told Agence France-Presse that the decision is based on mutual agreements between the two countries.

"It's not uncommon that suspects in different cases are surrendered for one day or a few days," Mr Van Der Sypt said.

Abrini had a long record as a petty criminal growing up in the troubled Molenbeek area of Brussels with Abdeslam.

Nicknamed "Brioche" after his days working in a bakery, he is thought to have given up training as a welder at the age of 18 before eventually gravitating towards extremism.

Identified as a radical Islamist by Belgian investigators, Abrini is believed to have briefly visited Syria in 2015, and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Suspect charged over Paris attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe