Belgian Police Arrest Two Of Europe's Most Wanted Men
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Belgian police appear to have arrested two of Europe's most wanted men. One is a Belgian Moroccan believed to have played a role in both the Paris and Brussels attacks. The other is a man authorities had been trying to locate even before the Paris attacks. Authorities think he may have had a role in the Brussels attack at a metro stop. These two arrests come a day after the Belgian prosecutor released a surveillance video of a man who had been with the bombers in the Brussels airport. He came to be known as the man in the hat.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has just returned from Brussels, where she was reporting on the attacks, and she's with us now with the latest. Dina, what do we know so far?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, Belgian officials held a press conference to announce the arrest, and they confirmed the identity of two men. The first is Mohamed Abrini. He - police had been searching for him for months because he was seen driving with Salah Abdeslam, one of the Paris attack suspects, from Brussels to Paris last November just before the attack. He's also thought to have driven Abdeslam home. Officials stopped short of saying that Abrini was the man in the hat you mentioned, the one that was seen in that surveillance video at the airport. Instead, they said he may have been that man. This is how they put it.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) This inquiry is continuing in order to determine whether Mohamed Abrini was the third person present at the Brussels National Airport attacks named as the man with the hat.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The second most wanted man they said they arrested is someone named Osama Krayem. He's a Swedish citizen, he traveled to Syria, and he'd also been wanted by authorities for months. They say both men were implicated in the Paris attacks and may have been part of this latest terrorist operation in Brussels as well. They also detained two other people but they didn't provide many details about them.
SHAPIRO: Tell us a little bit more about the background of these two men who they did identify.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Abrini is 31 years old and a childhood friend of the man we mentioned before, Salah Abdeslam. They both grew up in Molenbeek. Abrini's brother died in Syria fighting for ISIS. And Osama Krayem, the other man, went to Syria and may have come back to Europe through Lesbos, Greece, although that's yet to be confirmed. Authorities say he bought the bags that were used to package the bombs in Brussels and he was also with the suicide bomber at the Brussels metro shortly before a bomb went off there last month.
SHAPIRO: Are authorities concerned that new attacks could follow these arrests?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, that's a huge concern. If you remember, the Brussels attacks happened just days after Salah Abdeslam was arrested. U.S. and Belgian authorities told me they believe the Brussels attacks originally were scheduled for Easter Sunday or Easter Monday but that timetable got moved up. Abdeslam is supposed to be cooperating, but it's unclear how much he's really doing so because he was arrested before the attacks but he didn't tell authorities about them. And clearly the planning for those Brussels attacks was quite advanced given that the bombs were made and the people were in a position to launch them just days after Abdeslam was arrested.
The other thing that's important is that U.S. and Belgian authorities told me that they have at least four more suspects on the loose whom they believe are part of this terrorist cell. So that's of concern. Authorities told me when I was in Brussels last week that they didn't have a good sense of how large this cell actually was. So these arrests, while they're good, don't mean that this is over yet.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston talking about today's arrests in Brussels.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
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