Sunday 18 August 2019

Fifth suspect charged in Belgium over Paris attacks

Belgian soldiers patrol Brussels' Grand Place during a continued high level of security following the recent deadly Paris attacks REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Belgian soldiers patrol Brussels' Grand Place during a continued high level of security following the recent deadly Paris attacks REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Belgian authorities have charged a fifth suspect with terror offences relating to the Paris attacks.

The federal prosecutor's office also issued an international warrant for Mohamed Abrini, who is being tracked by both Belgian and French police.

Authorities are looking for Abrini because he was seen with fugitive Salah Abdeslam at a petrol station in Ressons, on the highway to Paris, two days before the attacks.

They said that Abrini was driving the Renault Clio used in the attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds of others.

Four other people have been handed terrorism charges in Belgium since the Paris attacks, which have been traced to a network of people with ties to both France and Belgium.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told MPs on Tuesday that 124 people had been charged in France since a state of emergency was imposed, following more than 1,230 searches in which 230 weapons were recovered.

However, he did not specify what the charges were or if they were linked to the attacks.

French police also continued to questioned a suspect linked to the terrorists.

Read more: Mapped: Where is safe for Irish tourists to travel in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East?

Jawad Bendaoud, the only person in France known to be facing potential terrorism charges directly linked to the attacks, was handed over to an anti-terrorism judge in Paris on Tuesday morning.

Bendaoud was detained last week for providing lodging to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of the attacks, in an apartment in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis.

Three people were killed when police raided the apartment on November 18, including Abaaoud and a female cousin.

Bendaoud acknowledged in a television interview giving shelter to two people from Belgium, but said he did not know who they were or what they planned.

The 29-year-old told BFM television: "I didn't know they were terrorists. I was asked to do a favour. I did a favour, sir."

He must be either charged or released on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Brussels remained at its highest alert level after Belgian prime minister Charles Michel cited a "serious and imminent threat" to the city, which houses the headquarters of the European Union and Nato.

Read more: Explosive vest 'contained same materials used in Paris attacks'

Belgium's crisis centre said the alert level would only change if a significant breakthrough warranted it.

Increased security measures in the wake of the massacre in Paris have virtually shut down the Belgian capital, with the subway system, many shops and schools remaining shut. Mr Michel said that despite the continued high alert, schools would reopen on Wednesday.

Businesses in Brussels were starting to feel the pain, and while few question the government's need to protect the public from a potential attack, some shop owners said the shutdown was too extreme.

"It's not a very good decision," said Esther Willems, assistant manager at the Galler chocolate shop in the heart of Brussels' city centre.

She added that "in the last two days, we have only had about 10 to 11 clients" compared with about 100 normally. Ms Willems said she hoped things would improve on Wednesday.

PA Media

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