PARIS — Belgian officials have arrested a key suspect from last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, a senior official said Friday, and investigators also explored possible links to the deadly bombings in Brussels last month.
The suspect, Mohamed Abrini, was the subject of a massive manhunt since November’s rampage in Paris, which killed at least 130 people. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A senior Belgian intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before an official announcement, said Abrini was among several people arrested.
Belgian officials had announced arrests in the March 22 attacks in Brussels but gave no immediate details. Belgian public broadcaster VRT reported that the 31-year-old Abrini was also possibly the “man in the hat” sought in connection with the Brussels suicide bombings that claimed 32 lives.
Abrini’s suspected role in Paris has not been made public by authorities. But according to European investigative files obtained by The Washington Post, Abrini appears as a key participant throughout the complicated planning that preceded the attacks.
On Nov. 11, just two nights before the Paris assault, he was caught on camera just after 7 p.m. at a gas station in Oise, outside the French capital. With him was Salah Abdeslam, another principal organizer of the attacks who was apprehended by French and Belgian authorities in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek on March 18.
Abdeslam eventually will be deported to France to stand trial for his role in the attacks. But on Friday, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, the French justice minister, said the extradition order would be delayed for now because of “the requirements of the investigation in Belgium.”
On the night of Nov. 11, Abrini was driving a black Renault Clio hatchback rented in Abdeslam’s name — one of the cars used to ferry attackers and their weapons throughout the French capital two days later.
As the documents reveal, after the men left the gas station in Oise, the Clio was seen moving in the direction of Brussels. The next day, however, Abrini was again spotted at a gas station, this time in Belgium but near the French border.
Abdeslam was with him again, but so was a man whom authorities have since identified as Abdeslam’s brother, Brahim Abdeslam. The car was spotted at toll stops later that evening heading for Paris, where Brahim Abdeslam would detonate a suicide vest outside a bar on the Boulevard Voltaire during the Nov. 13 attacks.
Abrini was well known to authorities long before the Paris attacks. He had an extensive rap sheet for various offenses — nearly 50 of them, including armed robberies, petty thefts and possession of illegal substances — between 1997 and 2015, according to the documents.
In an intelligence dossier compiled after the attacks in November, Abrini is described as follows: “The shape of his face is rounded, with a soft voice, brown eyes with an Arabic accent.”
The documents do not reveal precisely when Abrini began associating with Islamic State operatives in Europe or the Middle East. But they do convey a sense of his engagement.
Abrini’s younger brother, Soulaimane, 20, died in Syria in 2014 while fighting for a terrorist group linked to the Islamic State. Regarding the time Abrini himself may have spent in Syria, the documents show that throughout 2015, a man named Mohammad Abrini flew between continental Europe and Turkey several times from June to September.
Turkey is a known transit point for those seeking to enter Syria.
Four months after the Paris attacks, authorities think they saw Abrini on surveillance video at Brussels Airport — wearing a low-brim hat and light-colored jacket — walking alongside two of the suspected suicide attackers. Each was pushing a luggage cart holding large bags that officials said contained explosives.
The suspect known as “the man in the hat” was later seen leaving the airport, where a third bomb was found unexploded. A separate bombing took place in a Brussels metro station.
On Thursday, investigators released additional video of the airport suspect.
Murphy reported from Washington.
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