Belgian officials ID 3rd man facing terror charges; airport closed until at least Tuesday


New York Times News Service

Federal prosecutors in Belgium announced Saturday that the man they arrested and identified as Fayçal C. had been deeply involved in the Brussels plot and was being charged with participating in a terrorist group, in terrorist murders and in attempted terrorist murders.

The man has been identified in the Belgian press as Fayçal Cheffou, an independent journalist.

Eric Van der Sijpt, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, said Saturday that authorities were trying to confirm whether Cheffou is the man caught in a surveillance photograph on Tuesday right before the bombs went off at Brussels Airport. The man, shown wearing a white coat and a dark hat and pushing a luggage cart, is believed to have escaped after two accomplices detonated their explosives.

The police found no weapons or explosives during a search of Cheffou’s home.

Cheffou appears to have made a video in July 2014 in which he stands in front of a detention center for refugees and asylum seekers in Steenokkerzeel, near Zaventem, where the Brussels Airport is. In the video, Cheffou criticizes the government for serving the Muslim refugees meals before the end of the daily fast during the month of Ramadan.

He was arrested on Thursday, and the judge in charge of the case issued the formal arrest warrant on Friday in keeping with Belgian law, which requires a hearing before a judge and a warrant to be issued within 24 hours to keep a suspect in detention.

Three other men were also detained in Brussels for further questioning, the prosecutor’s office said. One was identified as Rabah N., who was mistakenly identified as Salah A. in a previous news release, the prosecutor’s office said.

Rabah N. is accused of being connected to Reda Kriket, the suspect detained on Thursday near Paris by French authorities. The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said on Thursday that Kriket was in the advanced stages of planning an attack in France.

Kriket is a jihadi who raised money for a network of militants in 2012 and 2013 and traveled to Syria in late 2014. He was well known to the security services in both France and Belgium, and he was named in a 2015 court proceeding along with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the on-the-ground chief planner of the Paris attacks.

Although details of the plot involving Kriket have not yet emerged, authorities have said that so far it was not linked to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris or the attacks in Brussels this past week.

Two other men were also being held for a longer period. One, named Abderamane A., was shot by the police and subdued at a tram stop in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels on Friday. Specific charges have not been filed yet, but the police said they were keeping him for an additional 24 hours for questioning.

The other man, Aboubaker A., was formally arrested and charged with participation in a terrorist group. A man detained with him in a car was released.

The investigating judge in charge of these cases also released a second person on Saturday, Tawfik A., after he was detained Friday for questioning.

Saturday’s developments have come as Brussels airport officials moved to assess the damage caused by twin explosions at the terminal on Tuesday.

Authorities have wrapped up their investigation of the crime scene at the airport and will allow engineers into the building to check its structural safety and information technology systems – and whether any damage can be repaired quickly.

Officials for Brussels Airport, which handles 23.5 million passengers annually, say flights won’t resume before Tuesday as they assess the damage caused by twin explosions in the terminal earlier this week. It links Brussels with 226 destinations worldwide and is served by 77 different airlines.

The Brussels Airport Co. said Saturday it is “studying a temporary solution to partially resume passenger flights, taking into account the new security measures” decided by the federal government.

The transport disruptions will do little to ease the worries of jittery Europeans, who are wondering how many violent extremists remain at large, and where and when they might strike again.

Authorities believe both the Brussels attacks and the Nov. 13 bombings in Paris that killed 130 people were plotted from Belgium.

Heavily armed police swept into Brussels neighborhoods Friday in operations linked to the attacks. Signs of a large police operation remained visible Saturday at the quiet tram station in Schaerbeek district in Brussels where a man was shot.

The man, who was sitting with a young girl and holding a bag, was ordered by police “to put the bag far from him.” After he did so, police shot him twice.

Local residents have mixed feelings about the intervention.

“The security services are doing their work,” said Timotheee Bunkyezi, a 54-year-old student who believes that for such a large-scale operation, the intelligence the police were working on must have been solid.

But Marie-Madeleine Yamotia, a 40-year-old nurse who lives right opposite the bus stop, expressed concern for the child who was with the suspect.

“It’s traumatizing for the little one,” she said. “We don’t know. Is he really a suspect? Here, we doubt it a little.”

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura and Lilia Blaise from Brussels. The Associated Press also contributed reporting.

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