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Two more charged over Brussels attacks

BBC News BBC News 12/04/2016
Police raided the Etterbeek house in Brussels on 9 April: The two suspects are linked to a house in Etterbeek which police say was used by the metro bombers on 22 March © AFP The two suspects are linked to a house in Etterbeek which police say was used by the metro bombers on 22 March

Two more men have been charged over the 22 March Brussels attacks, after they were linked to a safe house said to have been used by one of the bombers.

Map of Brussels showing metro station and airport © BBC Map of Brussels showing metro station and airport

Smail F and Ibrahim F, reported in local media to be brothers, face charges including terrorist murder.

Graphic showing links between Brussels and Paris attackers © BBC Graphic showing links between Brussels and Paris attackers

Three suicide bombers killed 32 people at Brussels international airport and Maelbeek metro station.

On Tuesday, three more suspects in the attacks in Paris in November were arrested in Brussels, officials said.

The gun and bomb attacks in the French capital killed 130 people.

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Paris and Brussels bombers' links uncovered

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Smail F and Ibrahim F have been linked to a house in the central Etterbeek area of Brussels that was used by suicide bomber Khalid el-Bakraoui, who died in the Maelbeek metro attack, and the arrested Swedish national Osama Krayem, suspected of being el-Bakraoui's accomplice.

Prosecutors say Smail F was born in 1984 and Ibrahim F in 1988.

The house in Avenue des Casernes was raided on Saturday but no explosives or weapons were found.

"They are charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempts to commit terrorist murders, as a perpetrator, co-perpetrator or accomplice," prosecutors said in a statement.

Belgian media report that the two brothers knew both Khalid el-Bakraoui and his brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up at the airport along with Najim Laachraoui.

Elder brother Smail F is suspected of renting the Etterbeek flat while his younger brother is alleged to have helped clean the flat, removing evidence before police arrived, public broadcaster RTBF reports. However, other reports indicate that Ibrahim F denies any involvement in the plot.

What is unclear for Belgian investigators is whether further suspects are at large.

There are particular concerns over the whereabouts of a backpack allegedly worn on 22 March by Krayem, a Swedish national said to have returned to Europe from Syria last September.

The suspect was spotted on CCTV wearing a similar backpack to Khalid el-Bakraoui when they had a brief conversation at Petillon metro station, a few stops away from Maelbeek. While el-Bakraoui blew himself up, Krayem did not.

Krayem is also thought to have been filmed at a Brussels shopping centre, buying the suitcases used in the airport bombings.

The other key arrested suspect is Mohamed Abrini, who police say has confessed to being the "man in the hat" - the third airport bomber who fled without detonating his device.

Tuesday's arrests over the attacks on Paris took place after a raid on a house in the Brussels suburb of Uccle.

No further details were given.

'Active network'

Belgian Islamism expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen has warned that the authorities may be dealing with a far bigger jihadist cell than thought.

He told Belgian TV on Monday that the Brussels bombings, like the attacks on Paris and on the Brussels Jewish museum in May 2014, were linked to a network run by Paris attacker Abdelhamid Abaaoud and jihadist recruiter Khalid Zerkani.

"Potentially there are at least another 60 to 70 members of the Zerkani network still active," he warned.

Two other suspects, Herve BM and Bilal el-Makhoukhi, are being investigated for participating in terrorist acts.

Belgian prosecutors revealed on Sunday that Mohamed Abrini had told them that the original plan had been to target France but it was switched to Brussels when fellow Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Brussels on 18 March.

Abdeslam was stopped by police near Ulm in south-western Germany last October. Krayem was with him at the time, using a fake Syrian passport, as was Amine Choukri who was also arrested on 18 March.

In a separate development, Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad has obtained a photo of Abdeslam in jail in Bruges. The image shows Abdeslam with a beard, which he did not have before he went on the run last November.

The website says (in Dutch) that he is being held in a top security wing of Bruges prison and checked on eight times per hour.

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