Brussels Terrorists Switched Target From France as Police Neared

  • Probe's progress prompted sudden change in terror tactics
  • `Man in hat' suspect charged over Brussels, Paris attacks

The terrorists who struck Brussels last month had been plotting a fresh attack in France, but changed their plans as the police were closing in on them, Belgian prosecutors said.

The gang whose members allegedly included Mohamed Abrini, the “man in the hat” Brussels airport bombing suspect now in police custody, switched targets to hit Brussels four days after the arrest of one of its members. The death toll in the March 22 attacks at the airport and a downtown subway station was 32.

CCTV footage provided by Belgian police shows the suspects.

Source: Belgian Federal Police

Investigators have determined that “the terrorist group initially had the intention to strike in France again,” the Belgian prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Sunday. “Surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels.”

The investigation into the Belgian-French jihadist connections made a breakthrough as police on Thursday released security videos that tracked the man now known to be Abrini as he made a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) trek on foot from the Brussels airport into the city.

Abrini was arrested a day later. He and Salah Abdeslam, who was captured before the Brussels blasts, were part of the cell that carried out the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130, according to the authorities. The links between the Paris and Brussels perpetrators have spawned fears of a wave of terrorism across Europe.

Subway Attack

Abrini accompanied two suicide bombers toward the Brussels airport check-in counters, planted a third bomb that didn’t go off immediately, and fled, according to prosecutors. Police on Friday also caught the alleged accomplice of the Brussels subway station suicide bomber, who was identified as Osama K.

Abrini dumped his light-colored jacket in a garbage bin and later sold the hat, according to a prosecutor’s statement.

On Sunday Abrini, already facing charges over the Paris attacks, was charged in the Brussels case as well.

Two others arrested on Friday were charged with offering assistance to Abrini and Osama K. They were identified as Hervé B.M., a 25-year-old citizen of Rwanda, and Bilal E.M, 27, whose nationality wasn’t given.

Two other people detained Friday were released. Police on Saturday raided another suspected hideout near a former military barracks in Brussels but “no weapons or explosives were found,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.