Upcoming Euro 2016 football tournament was prime target of Brussels terror cell: Reports

Paris attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini (left) confessed to being "the man in the hat" (right) caught on video with suicide bombers at Brussels Airport.
Paris attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini (left) confessed to being "the man in the hat" (right) caught on video with suicide bombers at Brussels Airport.PHOTO: AFP

One of the world's biggest sporting events, the Euro 2016 football championships in France, was a prime target of the ISIS terror cell that massacred 162 people in Paris and Brussels, according to reports from CNN and a French newspaper on Monday (April 11).

The US cable news network reported that so-called "Man in the Hat" extremist Mohamed Abrini, who was captured on Friday (April 8), told police that his cell had been ordered to attack Euro 2016, citing a source close to the investigation.

The source told CNN that investigators were still trying to verify Abrini's claims.

The French newspaper Liberation also reported on Monday: "According to our information, Mohamed Abrini has explained the initial intention of this nebulous terrorist Franco-Belgian terrorist group was to go into action during the Euro football tournament."

More than 2.5 million fans are expected to flock to Euro 2016 matches that will be held in 10 cities around France.

The final will be held on July 10 at the Stade de France, which was one of the targets of suicide bombers during an international friendly match between France and Germany during last November's Paris attacks.

Tight security checks are already in place at stadiums across Europe, and are expected to be further tightened when the tournament gets underway across France on June 10.

Abrini, 31, had told Belgian investigators the extremist group had never intended to target Brussels. On Sunday, Belgian prosecutors revealed that he had told interrogators that his cell had been plotting to hit France again after carrying out the Paris attack, but was forced to strike closer to home as the police closed in.

Investigations into the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) attacks in Paris showed that many of the perpetrators lived in Belgium, including surviving suspects who managed to evade the police for more than four months.

 

Prime suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Brussels on March 18. Suicide bombers killed 32 people in Brussels Airport and a rush-hour metro train four days later.

Belgian intelligence and security forces had been criticised abroad for not doing more to dismantle the militant cell, because of its links to the Paris attacks.

As of Friday, all publicly identified suspects were either in detention or dead, but Belgium remains on its second highest threat level, and Prime Minister Charles Michel said his government would remain alert, Reuters reported.

His comments were echoed by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who said France would not be lowering its guard.

"This is a further sign of the very serious threat facing Europe as a whole and of course France in particular," Mr Valls told a news conference in Algiers.