The extremists who struck Brussels last month, killing 32 people, initially planned to launch a second assault on France in the wake of the November attacks in Paris, Belgian authorities said yesterday.
But the perpetrators were “surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation” and decided to rush an attack on Brussels instead of going back to France, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement. It didn’t provide any details on the French plot or its targets.
Belgian justice minister Koen Geens said it amounted to “a dirty war” when more attacks could be expected in Belgium, France or beyond.
Mr Geens said: “Once the intention is there, the place of execution is rather secondary. If we secure one place, another target opens up.”
Two suicide bombers killed 16 people at Brussels Airport on 22 March. A subsequent explosion at the city’s Maelbeek subway station killed another 16 people.
Investigators have found links between the cell behind those attacks and the group that killed 130 people in Paris on 13 November, 2015.
Yesterday’s statement provides confirmation of what had been suspected by some experts: the series of raids and arrests in the week leading up to the Brussels attacks – including the capture of key Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam – pushed the killers to action.
A laptop seized from a rubbish bin on a street outside the suicide bombers’ last known address contained a message purportedly from Ibrahim El Bakraoui – who blew himself up in the airport attack – that indicated he was expecting to be arrested imminently following the arrest of Abdeslam.
Prosecutors said El Bakraoui wrote that he felt “in a hurry,” and “no longer knowing what to do,” and felt he was “being hunted from everywhere” – all indications they might have looked for an attack to take place earlier than initially planned.
Belgian police detained four men in Brussels raids over the weekend who were charged with participating in terrorist murders and the activities of a terrorist group in relation to the Brussels attacks.
One, Mohamed Abrini, has also been charged in relation to the Paris attacks, prosecutors said. He has acknowledged being the “man in the hat” spotted on CCTV alongside the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at Brussels Airport, officials said.