The Federal Prosecution Office says recently arrested terror suspect Mohamed Abrini has confessed to being the ‘man in the hat’ seen in a surveillance video at Brussels Airport. Abrini was accompanying the two suicide bombers, pushing trolleys filled with bombs, who detonated their explosives at Brussels Airport on March 22 killing 16 people and the two bombers, as seen in the footage.
The footage also showed the suspect fleeing the airport and making his way on foot back to central Brussels, appearing calm and composed, before surveillance cameras lost track of him.
Abrini made the admission on the day he was charged with terrorist murders over the November attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, prosecutors said. Abrini was arrested and identified after three weeks of frantic hunting by Belgian authorities.
“After being confronted with the results of the different expert examinations, he confessed his presence at the crime scene,” they said. “He is indeed the third man present at the Brussels national airport attacks,” the authorities said in a statement.
“He explained having thrown away his vest (jacket) in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterwards.” “This is an important step forward,” a source close to the investigation told AFP.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office released a statement confirming that Abrini was the third man directly involved in the bombing of Zaventem Airport.
The judge leading the Belgian investigation into the November 13 Paris attacks charged Abrini ‘with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders’, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Abrini is also suspected of providing logistical help for the men who carried out the November 13 attacks in Paris. Abrini’s role is not yet clear, but he appears to be one of the links between the Paris and Brussels attacks.
The Belgian of Moroccan origin had also been spotted on CCTV cameras at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the attacks there. He was seen in surveillance footage with some of the Paris attackers in November as they travelled from the Brussels area to Paris to organize the attacks and also on the trip transporting some of the attackers to Paris.
In addition, his DNA and fingerprints were found in a house in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels that was used to prepare at least some of the suicide vests for the Paris attacks. The Belgian prosecutor’s office said three men in addition to Abrini had been detained and charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist network and terrorist murder.
Terror suspect Osama Krayem, a Swedish national, and son of Syrian exiles, received the same charges over his role in a suicide bombing at a Brussels metro station on March 22, which occurred an hour after the airport blasts. A total of 32 people died in the coordinated attacks.
Osama K was identified as the man who appeared with the suicide bomber Khalid at the Malbeek subway station minutes before the metro bombing. Krayem, 23, was also caught on camera buying the bags used to conceal the bombs set off at the airport, they added.
Swedish media published photographs of him holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle in front of an IS flag said to have been taken in Syria.
The third man charged is Herve B.M., 25, a Rwandan citizen who was arrested with Osama K. and who is believed to have helped Abrini and Osama K.
A fourth man who was arrested Friday, Bilal E.M., 27, was also charged with murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group. Officials say he is suspected of aiding Abrini and Osama K.
“It’s one of the most significant advances in the case,” said Claude Moniquet, a French former intelligence officer who works in Brussels. “Today we can say that all the important members of the Paris cell and Brussels cell are dead or in jail. Potentially it’s the end of this part of the story.”