Suspect believed to be "Man in the Hat" among several arrested in Belgium terror sweep
Mohamed Abrini, the terror suspect believed to be the "man in the hat," an accomplice of the suicide attackers at Belgium's Zaventem Airport bombing last month and the Paris massacre in November, was finally arrested in a Belgium terror sweep Friday after spending months on the run, investigators confirmed.
A second arrested suspect, Swedish national Osama Krayem, may have been the second attacker at the Brussels metro station in the March 22 bombings, investigators said at a news briefing. They did not name any other suspects in custody, but said three additional people were arrested.
The announcement came a day after authorities released a chilling video showing the airport suspect, also known as the “man in white,” escaping last month after helping to carry out the devastating Brussels attacks, which left 32 people and three suicide bombers dead. Abrini also was the last suspect wanted in connection to the Paris attacks.
The suspect seen in a white jacket and dark hat became Europe's most wanted man after a security camera captured him and two suicide bombers pushing suitcases packed with explosives in the airport just before the attack.
The 2-minute clip, apparently spliced from a series of surveillance videos, shows the unidentified man striding purposely from Zaventem Airport, moving into a nearby town and then making his way to Brussels, where he disappeared.
Belgian prosecutors said fingerprints and DNA from Abrini had been found in a Renault Clio used in the Paris attacks, and in an apartment in the Forest area of the Belgian capital that was used by Salah Abdeslam, another Paris suspect, as a hideout until police stumbled upon it. Five hours after the initial detentions, authorities were still carrying out a raid in the same Anderlecht area of Brussels.
Abdeslam was arrested on March 18 and is being held in a prison in the Belgian city of Bruges. His lawyer said Thursday that his extradition to France will take weeks to happen.
Prosecutors in March said Abdeslam planned to blow himself up outside France’s national stadium during the Paris attacks, but backed out at the last minute.
Abrini's precise role in the Paris attacks has never been clear, as is his full link to the Brussels. He is a 31-year-old Belgian-Moroccan petty criminal believed to have traveled early last summer to Syria where his younger brother died in 2014 in the Islamic State terror group's notorious francophone brigade.
He had not resurfaced since the emergence of surveillance video placing him in the convoy with the attackers headed to Paris. He had ties to Abdelhamid Abbaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks who died in a police standoff on Nov. 18, and is a childhood friend of brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam. Abrini was traveling with Salah Abdeslam in the convoy headed to Paris in the 36 hours leading up to the attacks.
He went multiple times to Birmingham, England, last year, meeting with several men suspected of terrorist activity, a European security official has told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to provide details on the investigation. He said the meetings, including one later last summer, took place in several locations, including cafes and apartments.
The government and top security officials gathered in a national security council meeting in the wake of Friday's detention to assess the consequences of the operation.