Ever since explosions ripped through the Brussels airport on the morning of March 22, which together with a separate bomb attack at the Maelbeek metro station killed 32 and wounded dozens, in a terrorist attack which took the lives of two of the perpetrators Brahim El Bakraoui, 30, and his brother Khalid, 27, shown in the left and center on the airport photo below…
… local authorities had been on the hunt for the third bomber, the one also known as “the man in the hat.”
As of moments ago, he has been officially found.
According to local authorities, Mohamed Abrini – who was arrested on Friday in the Anderlecht district of Brussels – has confessed to being the third attacker at the Brussels national airport, Belgium’s federal prosecutors said on Saturday in a news release.
“After being confronted with the results of the different expert examinations, he confessed his presence at the crime scene. He explained having thrown away his vest in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterwards,” the prosecutors said as the WSJ reported moments ago.
The prosecutors said Abrini told them he threw away his vest in a garbage bin and later sold his hat.
Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian-Moroccan, had been among Europe’s most wanted and was considered “armed and dangerous.” His arrest means that Belgian authorities now have at least two people, along with Salah Abdeslam, who have been directly tied to the attacks in Paris.
Abrini was seen with Abdeslam at a gas station between Brussels and Paris two nights before the Paris massacre. His DNA and fingerprints were lifted from a vehicle used in the Paris attacks, spokesmen for the Belgian federal prosecutor said.
On Thursday, Belgian police released a series of surveillance images showing the third man leaving the airport in Zaventem, then heading west into the Brussels district of Schaerbeek, over the course of two hours following the bombings. Last month, two friends told CNN that Abrini was a regular customer at a cafe in Brussels called Les Beguines. They said he used to visit in the evenings for a drink, and described him as a tall, slim, quiet man who would keep to himself.
“For French investigators, this can be very big,” said CNN’s Nic Robertson. “This gives you a much stronger position to be in to get to the truth … to (track) other terrorists on the run down,” Robertson said. “And also to understand precisely what happened in Paris.”
But according to Peter Bergen, a leading terrorism expert and CNN analyst, Abrini’s arrest puts pressure on Belgian authorities to find out information quickly.
Days after Abdeslam was arrested, terrorists carried out twin attacks in Brussels. A senior counterterrorism official has said the 26-year-old was probably going to be part of an attack planned by the same ISIS cell. “Hopefully, Belgian counterterrorism officials won’t make the same mistake they made last time with Abdeslam,” said Bergen, vice president of the New America public policy institute. “They didn’t ask him about what else was in the pipeline.”
As CNN adds, according to a European police cooperative known as ENFAST, video showed Abrini with Abdeslam on November 11, two days before the massacre in the French capital. The same Renault Clio that Abrini drove was used in those attacks, ENFAST reports. Abdeslam told authorities he drove a car of that same make and model to the Stade de France — where suicide bombers detonated explosives outside a soccer game — and abandoned it. He then wandered into the subway and allegedly “contacted one person,” that being Abrini, CNN’s French affiliate BFMTV reported.
Abrini has a criminal record of violent theft. He also had a younger brother killed while fighting for ISIS in 2014, and he was in Istanbul, Turkey, briefly last summer and possibly in Syria. Relatives have insisted Abrini was in Brussels the night of the Paris attacks.
More than four months later, Belgian state broadcaster VRT reports Abrini was still in the Belgian capital — playing a hands-on role in the terror attacks there.
Investigators also are trying to determine whether a man arrested in a separate operation Friday was part of the second attack – at a Brussels metro station – an hour later. Osama Krayem – also known as Naim al Hamed – might be the second person “present at the time of the attack at the Maelbeek subway station,” Belgian federal prosecutor’s spokesman Eric Van der Sypt said.
Krayem, has been described as “very dangerous and probably armed” in a bulletin circulated by French investigators to European security services hours after the Brussels attacks. A French source close to the investigation into ISIS’ terror network in France and Belgium told CNN that European security agencies believe Hamed, or Krayem, had an operational role in the Brussels attack.
Krayem was a resident of Malmo, Sweden, and was known to Swedish counterterrorism services and suspected to have joined ISIS in Syria, Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish counterterrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College, told CNN.
Krayem posted images of himself from Syria with automatic weapons and the ISIS flag, Ranstorp said. The final post he made on Facebook from Syria was in January 2015, Ranstorp said.
It remains to be seen if the capture of Abrini and Krayem, who some believe may be last surviving members of the Brussels cells, will lead to an end of terrorism in the hear of Europe or if it will merely provoke even more attacks now that any remaining cell members scramble to inflict as much damage before local authorities are successful in fully dismantling the deadliest terrorist cell in European history.
Meanwhile, police operations continue: the prosecutor’s office revealed Saturday that a sixth person. identified as Bilal Al Makhoukhi, had also been arrested Friday, though it wasn’t clear exactly where.
Officials said there were ongoing police operations into the night. The street where Abrini was arrested was cordoned off early Saturday. Forensic teams were still at work, according to a CNN crew at the scene. CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen reported that authorities had removed bags of evidence from a residence.
via Zero Hedge http://ift.tt/1VdG77f Tyler Durden