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World & Nation

Belgium says four suspects charged with terrorist acts include ‘man in the hat’

Brussels attack suspect

Police investigate an area where terror suspect Mohamed Abrini was arrested on Friday, April 8, 2016, in Brussels. 

(Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press)

A suspected terrorist arrested Friday in Belgium has confessed to being the mysterious “man in the hat” believed to have participated in the Brussels attacks last month that killed 32 people, prosecutors said Saturday.

The man, Mohamed Abrini, and three other suspects were charged Saturday with being part of a terrorist organization. Two other suspects arrested in police raids Friday were questioned and released.

The announcement resolves a key question in the investigation of the March 22 attacks at the Brussels Airport and a subway station.

In security footage from the airport shortly before the deadly explosion, a man in a hat and white trench coat can be seen pushing a luggage trolley alongside two suicide bombers.

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The trolley was carrying explosives that never went off, investigators later discovered.

The man was thought to have discarded a suicide belt he was wearing before he left the airport.

There was speculation that it was Abrini, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, but his face was too obscured in the video to know for sure.

“After being confronted with the results of the different expert examinations, he confessed his presence at the crime scene,” Thierry Werts, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said in a statement Saturday. “He explained having thrown away his vest in a garbage bin and having sold his hat afterward.”

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The statement did not elaborate on the hat sale.

Abrini had been on Europe’s most-wanted list since November. He also is suspected of being a key plotter in the Nov. 13, 2015, terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people outside a soccer stadium, at crowded bars and restaurants and inside the Bataclan concert hall.

Two days before those attacks, Abrini was seen on video traveling in a car to Paris. He grew up in Brussels and has a long history of petty crime. His younger brother died in Syria in 2014 after joining Islamic State, and Abrini is believed to have spent time in Syria in 2015.

“He is charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group and terrorist murder,” Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement Saturday.

They did not release the full names of the other men who were charged Saturday, identifying them only as Rwandan national Herve B.M., a 27-year-old Bilal E.M. and Osama K., who according to Belgian media reports is Swedish national Osama Krayem and is believed to have appeared on security footage at the Brussels subway before the explosion there.

In a news conference Saturday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel hailed the progress on the investigation and said his government would remain vigilant against terrorism.

“We are positive about the recent developments in the investigation,” he said. “But we know we have to stay alert and cautious.”

Other European countries have accused Belgium of underestimating the terror threat and failing to make sure its security agencies and police kept abreast of intelligence on terror suspects.

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