Paris attacks suspect Mohamed Abrini has confessed to being “the man in the hat” caught on video with suicide bombers at Brussels airport last month, images that had sparked a massive manhunt.
Abrini made the admission on Saturday, on the day he was charged with terrorist murders over the November attacks in Paris which left 130 people dead, prosecutors said.
Terror suspect Osama Krayem, a Swedish national, received the same charges over his role in a suicide bombing at a Brussels metro station on March 22, which occurred an hour after the airport blasts. A total of 32 people died in the coordinated attacks.
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The latest arrests strengthened the theory that the same cell carried out both France and Belgium’s worst-ever terror outrages, claimed by the Islamic State group.
The pair were among six arrested in raids across Brussels on Friday. Two were later released but the two others were charged with complicity for allegedly helping Abrini and Krayem.
The judge leading the Belgian investigation into the November 13 Paris attacks charged Abrini “with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murders,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
The Belgian of Moroccan origin was the last known Paris suspect still at large. He had been spotted on CCTV cameras at a petrol station north of Paris two days before the attacks there. In the car with him was fellow Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, who is now awaiting extradition from Belgium to France.
Prosecutors also confirmed Abrini’s connection to the Brussels airport attack.
The 31-year-old “confessed his presence at the crime scene” when they confronted him with evidence, including footage of a mystery man in a hat and light-coloured jacket seen next to the two suicide attackers as they walked through the departure hall pushing trolleys loaded with bomb-filled bags.
“He is indeed the third man present at the Brussels national airport attacks,” they said in a statement.
“He explained having thrown away his vest (jacket) in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterward.”
The airport images had triggered a furious manhunt for the so-called “man in the hat”, who swiftly became one of Europe’s most wanted men.
Police stepped up the search on Thursday when they released a video tracing the fugitive’s escape route after the blasts and appealed for the public’s help in identifying him.
The new footage showed the suspect fleeing the airport and making his way on foot back to central Brussels, appearing calm and composed, before surveillance cameras lose track of him.