Paris terrorism suspect Mohamed Abrini was charged in Belgium on Saturday with terrorist murders and lead participation in the activities of a terrorist group, over his alleged role in the November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.
Abrini was arrested on Friday, alongside five others, amid a separate investigation into suicide attacks in Brussels last month that left 32 people dead. Three other men were charged Saturday with serious terrorism-related offences in that context. Two were released.
Belgian authorities are investigating whether Abrini was involved in the events on March 22, when two bombers blew themselves up at the Brussels international airport and a third in an underground railway station.
Following Abrini's arrest, Belgian media had reported that he was "more than likely" to also be a fugitive suspect who had left behind a bomb during the suicide attacks on Brussels airport.
But the prosecution said Saturday that it was "not possible yet to confirm" that Abrini is the sought-after attacker, who has become known as the "man with the hat," based on video surveillance of him.
His exact role in the Paris attacks is also not known. He was spotted with key suspect Salah Abdeslam in the days before the attacks, and his fingerprints and DNA were found in a car used in the attacks, as well as at terrorist hideouts in Brussels.
However, the prosecution did confirm that Osama K, who was also arrested Friday, was a second suspect present at the suicide blast in the Brussels underground carriage. Media had previously reported about a second metro attacker, but officials had not confirmed it.
Osama K had also been filmed at a shopping mall in central Brussels buying bags used in the airport attack, the prosecution said. He has been identified in Belgian media as Osama Krayem, a Swedish national.
He was charged with terrorist murders and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.
Two other men arrested on Friday - identified by the prosecution as Herve B M, a Rwandan national, and Bilal E M - were charged with complicity in terrorist murders and participation in the activities of a terrorist group, in connection with the Brussels attacks.
They are both suspected of offering assistance to Abrini and Osama K, the prosecution wrote in a statement, without giving details.
Belgian prosecutors had announced the arrest of five people on Friday. Local media first reported the sixth man earlier Saturday, naming him as Bilal El Makhoukhi, a suspect condemned last year in a mass trial against members of the terrorist group Sharia4Belgium.
El Makhoukhi had been sentenced to five years in prison but was released early, the Belgian broadcaster VRT and De Standaard newspaper reported.
Two people arrested with Abrini on Friday were released after "thorough interrogation," the prosecution said in a statement.
It further said that a raid was carried out Saturday on an apartment in the Brussels neighbourhood of Etterbeck that was "possibly used as a safe house by the terrorist group," in addition to searches Friday in a possible residence of Abrini, a residence of Herve B M and the home of Bilal E M.
No weapons or explosives were found on any of these premises.
Meanwhile, the Belgian government agreed early Saturday to increase its spending on security as well as supporting economic sectors hit by last month's terrorist attacks on Brussels, as it finalized its budget plans, the Belga news agency reported.
Saturday, April 9, 2016 - 17:38
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