Tuesday 17 July 2018

Brussels jihadis planned second attack in Paris

People take part in a anti-terrorism march organised by Turkish groups in the Belgian city of Ghent Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People take part in a anti-terrorism march organised by Turkish groups in the Belgian city of Ghent Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Suspect: Mohamed Abrini AFP/Getty Images

Rory Mulholland

The Brussels bombers had planned to attack Paris again but instead attacked the Belgian capital because they knew police were closing in after their ringleader, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested.

The jihadist cell was "surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation" and decided to rush the airport and metro station attacks on Brussels, according to the Belgian federal prosecutor's office.

Their change of plan appears to have been spurred by the arrest of Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam, which took place just four days before the Brussels bombings.

Manuel Valls, the French prime minister said yesterday the revelations about the Belgian terrorist cell proved there was a major, ongoing threat to his country. "It's extra proof of the very high threats to the whole of Europe and to France in particular," he said.

Belgian justice minister Koen Geens said it amounted to "a dirty war".

"Once the intention is there, the place of execution is rather secondary," Geens said. "If we secure one place, another target opens up."

"We can hope that the cell around Abdeslam and [Paris attack mastermind Abdelhamid] Abbaoud is just about caught but we should not believe it," Mr Geens said.

"It is a dirty war which is unpleasant for France, for Belgium, or for the other nations in Western Europe, because no one is immune," Mr Geens added.

The investigation into the Brussels attackers, who were directly involved in the November attacks on Paris which killed 130 people, scored a major breakthrough with the arrest on Friday of prime suspect Mohamed Abrini.

He has been charged with "terrorist murders" in connection with both the Brussels and Paris attacks and on Saturday admitted to investigators that he was the elusive "man in the hat" seen at Brussels airport with two brothers who minutes later blew themselves up.

Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, left a bag packed with explosives before calmly walking away from the departure hall before the blast killed 17 people instantly.

His fingerprints and DNA were found in a Renault Clio used in the attacks in Paris as well as inside an apartment in Brussels used by the airport bombers.

A security expert said officers from Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command would be liaising closely with Belgian counterparts to learn all they can about Abrini's movements after it emerged he visited Britain last year.


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