PARIS – The Belgian federal prosecutor confirmed Saturday that Mohamed Abrini – who was arrested Friday afternoon – was the “man in the hat” captured in surveillance footage alongside two suicide bombers at Brussels Airport on March 22.
Abrini had been at large since the Brussels attacks, which killed 32 and injured hundreds more at the airport in Zaventem and a metro station close to the headquarters of the European Union. Footage showed him calmly walking out of the airport and into the city, where he disappeared.
He was arrested Friday in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels, not far from the apartment where he and his collaborators left for the airport on the morning of the attacks.
“After being confronted with the results of the different expert examinations, he confessed his presence at the crime scene,” the federal prosecutor said in a statement. “He explained having thrown away his vest in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterwards.”
Abrini was also a significant actor in the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, which killed 130 and injured hundreds more in a coordinated series of shootings and suicide bombings at a stadium, concert hall and restaurants across the French capital.
According to European investigative files obtained by The Washington Post, Abrini ferried fellow terrorists back and forth across the French-Belgian border in the days leading up to the attacks. He was seen on camera with Brahim Abdeslam, who detonated a suicide bomb outside a Paris cafe, and with Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested in Brussels on March 18.
The documents also suggest that Abrini probably traveled from Europe to Syria and back, via Turkey, in the months before the November attacks.
In addition to Abrini, suspects identified as Osama K., Herve B.M. and Bilal E.M. have been charged with “terrorist murder” and participating in the “activities of a terrorist group,” the prosecutor’s office said Saturday.
Despite these arrests, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon was quick to point out that more terrorists could still be at work in the small nation that has become a hotbed for radical Islamist activity in Europe.
“There are perhaps other cells that are still active on our territory,” Jambon told Belgium’s RTL television network on Saturday.
Belgium remains on high alert.