Govt charges 2 new suspects over deadly Brussels attacks

Soldiers control passers by in Brussels, on March 23 2016, one day after the attacks on Brussels airport and at a metro station.  About 20 people were killed on the metro and 14 at the airport in the rush-hour assaults, which came just days after the arrest in Brussels of the main fugitive suspect in November's gun and bomb rampage in Paris.  / AFP PHOTO / BELGA / HATIM KAGHAT / Belgium OUT

Brussels / AFP

Belgium has charged two new suspects over last month’s deadly Brussels airport and metro attacks, as police pursue the investigation “night and day”, the federal prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.
A statement said Smail F and Ibrahim F were “charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempts to commit terrorist murders, as a perpetrator, co-perpetrator or accomplice.”
The prosecutor said there were “indications” the two men could be linked to the rental of an address in the Etterbeek district of Brussels which was raided last week.
At the time, police said they found nothing of interest there but reports suggested that two men—including Khalid El Bakraoui, who later blew himself up in the Maalbeek metro station—may have stayed or used the address.
The second man, later identified as Swedish national Osama Krayem, was seen on CCTV with Khalid at a nearby metro station on March 22, apparently also carrying a rucksack bomb.
Khalid then got on the metro, travelling to Maalbeek station near the European Union headquarters district in Brussels.
Krayem was arrested last week and charged with terror offences.

Probe runs ‘day and night’

The federal prosecutor gave no further details in Tuesday’s statement about Smail F. and Ibrahim F., citing the need for secrecy “in the current state of the investigation which is continuing actively, day and night.”
The airport and metro bombings killed 32 people in Belgium’s worst terror attack which was claimed, like the attacks in Paris in November, by the IS group.
Investigators have since uncovered extensive links between the Brussels and Paris attacks, with many of the same people involved and linked to IS in Syria.
At the weekend, the prosecutor said the Brussels cell had originally planned another attack in France but the arrest of Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam on March 18, coupled with a massive series of police raids, made them switch to target Belgium instead.
“Surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels,” the prosecutor said.
Apparently reflecting these fears as the net closed in, one of the airport bombers, Khalid’s brother Ibrahim El Bakraoui, left behind what the authorities described as a “will” on a computer in which he said he felt “hunted” and “I don’t know what to do.”
The other airport bomber was Najim Laachraoui, whose DNA was found on a suicide vest recovered at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris where 90 people died.
The Belgian authorities gave no details of the planned attack in France.
Late last month, however, French police arrested Reda Kriket near Paris, finding weapons and explosives in a flat he had used to suggest he was planning an act of “extreme violence.” Belgium has arrested several suspects in connection with the Kriket case.

‘Man in the hat’ Abrini
The police netted another key Paris suspect on Friday, Mohamed Abrini, dubbed “the man in the hat” after he was seen in CCTV footage at Brussels airport shortly before the two bombers struck there.
Abrini, 31, was seen calmly leaving the devastated departures hall after the blasts, walking back into central Brussels before disappearing from sight.
He was also filmed with Salah Abdeslam at a motorway service station en route to Paris shortly before the attacks there. Brahim Abdeslam was among the suicide bombers in Paris but his brother Salah backed out at the last moment and fled back to Brussels, where he hid until police finally tracked him down on March 18, not far from the family home in the Molenbeek district.
Abrini grew up with Abdeslam in Molenbeek along with several other suspects, who all share a similar story of getting on the wrong side of the law and becoming radicalised.
Critics say the authorities have not done enough to prevent extremists working in areas such as Molenbeek, with Belgium proportionately the biggest source of foreign fighters going to join IS in Syria.

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