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Belgian police arrest sixth suspect in Brussels attack, prosecutors suspect Paris connect

AP 09 Apr 2016, 20:58:40 IST
AP

Brussels: Belgian authorities have detained a sixth person suspected of ties to the Brussels bombings, a group that includes the last known fugitive of last year's Paris attacks and a Swedish fighter with possible links to attacks in both Brussels and Paris, prosecutors said Saturday.

The arrests could give investigators new insights into the Islamic State group cell believed to have carried out the attacks in both France and Belgium.

The announcement came as police, including masked officers, descended on Brussels' Etterbeek neighborhood, sealing part of it off. There was no immediate police comment on their latest raid.

Authorities had announced the arrest of five men on Friday, including Mohamed Abrini, the last identified suspect at large from the Paris attacks. Belgium's prosecutor's office said Saturday that a sixth person had been arrested, but refused to give any further details.

Another one of the six, named only as Osama K. by authorities, was identified by Swedish media as Osama Krayem, who is known to have left the Swedish city of Malmo to fight in Syria.

Belgium's prosecutor's office confirmed only that Osama K. was from Sweden. Swedish officials had no immediate comment.

Abrini and Krayem are suspected of participating in the two biggest attacks carried out by the Islamic State group in Europe over the past year, killing 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13 and 32 people in Brussels on March 22.

Investigators are still trying to determine whether Abrini is the "man in the hat" who escaped the Brussels attacks while two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the airport and other attacked the city's subway. They'll also be investigating Krayem's role in the attack: he was filmed by security cameras at a shopping mall where the bags used by the airport bombers were bought. French authorities also suspect Krayem of having links to the Paris attacks.

"It's still not confirmed whether Abrini is the man in the hat, we still don't know," Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon told RTL television on Saturday.

The arrests may also help investigators unravel the links between the attacks and IS, the radical Muslim group that controls territory in both Iraq and Syria.

Krayem had earlier been identified posting photos from Syria on social media, according to Magnus Ranstorp, a counterterrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College.

"He also tried to recruit people in Malmo," Ranstorp told The Associated Press.

The detentions were a rare success for Belgian authorities, who have been pilloried for mishandling leads in the investigation. But despite multiple arrests, Brussels remains under the second-highest terror alert, meaning an attack is considered likely.

"There are perhaps other cells that are still active on our territory," Jambon said.