'Man in hat' suspect linked to attacks in Brussels and Paris 'arrested by police'
Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian wanted in connection with November's attacks in Paris, has been arrested in Brussels, Belgian media reported yesterday.
Abrini (31) is believed to be the "man in the hat" seen on CCTV footage at Brussels airport with the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the departures area last month.
The "man in the hat" is also believed to have been carrying a bomb that failed to detonate, and was later seen on CCTV walking into central Brussels, where his trace was lost.
Public prosecutors yesterday confirmed in a brief statement only that police had made several arrests related to the Brussels attacks.
Abrini was "more than likely" the "man in the hat" seen on security camera footage at Brussels airport on March 22 with two suicide bombers, broadcasters VRT and RTBF said on their websites, citing unidentified sources.
The arrests could mark a final success for Belgian security services which have faced fierce criticism at home and abroad since Brussels-based militants organised the attacks that killed 130 in Paris on November 13.
The arrests took place a day after police issued new images and detail on the "man in the hat" and follow the arrest in Brussels three weeks ago of the prime surviving suspect in those attacks.
Four days after the March 18 arrest of Salah Abdeslam, with whom Abrini was seen driving towards Paris two days before the Paris attacks, brothers Brahim and Khalid El Bakraoui and a third local man Najim Laachraoui killed 32 people at Brussels airport and on a metro line running under EU institutions.
VRT and RTBF said Abrini was probably the man disguised in heavy glasses and a floppy hat who was pictured with Brahim Bakraoui and Laachraoui moments before the other two blew themselves up at the airport.
A second suspect held yesterday was believed to be a man seen with Khalid Bakraoui at a metro station shortly before the latter blew himself up on a train on the same line.
VRT named the second man as Osama Kraiem. Broadcasters said he had also been caught on CCTV buying holdalls at a downtown mall which were later used in the Brussels bombings.
Abrini was arrested in the borough of Anderlecht, VRT said, next to the western district of Molenbeek which has been at the heart of Belgium's troubles with Islamist militants.
He had been on Europe's most wanted list since being seen on a motorway service station CCTV video driving with Abdeslam towards Paris from Belgium in a car used two days later in the attacks in which Abdeslam's elder brother was a suicide bomber.
The "man in the hat" left the airport shortly after the twin suicide bombings in Brussels and was tracked on CCTV for several miles into the city centre.
On Thursday, investigators released new video footage of him and urged people to look for his discarded coat.
Wearing glasses and a hat, he had been very difficult to identify from the footage showing him pushing a laden luggage trolley. A third bomb was later found abandoned at the airport.
Abrini was seen with Salah Abdeslam on November 11, two days before the Paris attacks, in a service station in France, on the motorway leading from the Belgian border to Paris.
Abrini was at the wheel of a Renault Clio used in the attacks, which killed 130 people.
Abrini is thought to have travelled to Syria, where his younger brother Souleymane is known to have joined Isil, fighting in the same group as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected Paris attacks mastermind.
Abrini has a criminal record, with several convictions in Belgium for robbery and violence.
The man arrested with him, named as Osama Kraiem, was reportedly in contact with at least one of the Brussels suicide attackers, Khalid El Bakraoui, on the day of the bombings at the airport and in the metro.
The Belgian national broadcaster, RTBF, reported that he is believed to have bought bags used to carry the Brussels bombs.