Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian thought to have helped prepare the Nov. 13 bombing and shooting attack that killed 130 people in the French capital, was held with two others, prosecutors said. They were trying to confirm that he was also the “man in the hat” seen with the Brussels airport suicide bombers on March 22.
Aged 31, Abrini was seized close to the Brussels borough of Molenbeek, where he was long known to police for petty crimes.
Earlier, police seized a man prosecutors named only as Osama K., and who local media said was a Swede named Osama Krayem. The prosecutors said Krayem, detained with another man, was checked by German police in October using a fake Syrian passport in a car rented by Salah Abdeslam, prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, who was detained in Brussels three weeks ago.
Krayem is suspected of being the man seen on CCTV with a suicide bomber before he struck the Brussels metro on March 22 and of buying the holdalls used by the attackers that day.
The arrests mark a signal success for Belgian security services, which have faced fierce criticism at home and abroad since Brussels-based militants organized the attacks in Paris and, four months later, those in the Belgian capital that killed 32 people, four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon, who offered to resign over the failure to arrest one of the Brussels suicide bombers last year, tweeted congratulations to those involved in the arrests, as did the Belgian head of state, King Philippe.
But there was no change in the national security alert level and Jambon added: “The struggle against terrorism goes on.” Police searched premises in western Brussels late on Friday.
Belgium has struggled to contain a threat from hundreds of young men, many with chequered criminal histories and from the country’s substantial Moroccan immigrant community, who have traveled to Syria. For the size of its 11 million population, Belgium has the biggest contingent of Islamist foreign fighters.