Key Paris attacks suspect arrested in Brussels

Paris attacks suspects Mohamed Abrini and Salah Abdeslam (right) in north Paris on November 11th, 2015
Paris attacks suspects Mohamed Abrini and Salah Abdeslam (right) in north Paris on November 11th, 2015

Mohamed Abrini, the 31-year-old Belgian man wanted in connection with the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13, has been arrested, according to Belgian media reports.

The Belgian federal police confirmed that a number of arrests were made in Brussels in connection with the attacks on Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station on March 22, but declined to disclose the identity of those detained. The arrests are believed to have taken place in the Anderlecht area of the capital.

Flemish media reported that Abrini, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant, may be the so-called man in the hat who fled Brussels airport following the detonation of two bombs on the morning of March 22.

Abrini, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, has been sought by police since he was filmed at a petrol station two days before the Paris terrorist attacks along with Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam. The two men were caught in CCTV footage at a petrol station on the motorway just north of Paris beside a Renault Clio which was involved in the Paris terrorist attacks two days later.

An international arrest warrant issued in the week following the Paris attacks described Abrini as dangerous and “probably armed”.

Abrini is believed to have spent time in Syria, along with his younger brother, who is understood to have died there while fighting for Islamic State.

Mohamed Abrini had previously been arrested for armed robbery by police and had links with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks who was killed in a shootout with police in the Paris suburb of St Denis four days after the attacks.

Local media reported that a man known as Osama K was also arrested on Friday. The suspect was spotted with Maelbeek metro bomber Khalid El Bakraoui around the Brussels attacks and may have bought the bags that were used in the bombings, according to some reports.

While Belgian prime minister Charles Michel this week rejected international criticism of the Belgian security forces, the possible arrest of Abrini will again raise questions as to how a man who was wanted by police escaped detection in the four months since the Paris attacks.

Friday’s arrests came a day after Belgian police issued fresh CCTV footage of the third suspected airport bomber, who was pictured alongside two other suspects believed to have blown themselves up at the airport, minutes before the bombs went off.

The footage showed the route taken by the suspected terrorist after he left the airport shortly after the first bomb exploded shortly before 8am and made his way by foot into the centre of Brussels. The last sighting of the unidentified man was at 9.50am on a street just a few hundred metres from the European Commission’s headquarters and a 10-minute walk from Maelbeek metro station.

Police had appealed to anyone who may have noticed a jacket that was discarded by the suspect between the airport and the Schaerbeek area or who may have seen the suspect in the two hours following the attack to contact investigators.

In particular, authorities appealed to anyone who may have filmed or photographed the man to come forward.

Thirty-two people were killed in the twin attacks in Brussels on March 22nd. Another 57 people remain in hospital with about two dozen seriously injured.

Salah Abdeslam, one of the only surviving suspects of the November 13th attacks in Paris, remains in prison in Bruges. Although he is due to be extradited to France, this has now been delayed as Belgian authorities investigate the Brussels attacks.