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Sun Aug 28 16:06:45 SAST 2016

Belgium charges airport suspect, calls off Brussels "march against fear"

REUTERS | 27 March, 2016 10:30
A girl lights candles as people pay tribute to the victims of Tuesday's bomb attacks, at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, Belgium.
Image by: CHRISTIAN HARTMANN / REUTERS

Belgian prosecutors have charged three men with terrorist offences over the Brussels bombings and Italian police have arrested an Algerian suspected of having produced false documents for militants connected to the attacks.

With the investigation now spanning several countries, and increasing signs of links to the Paris attacks in November, Belgian authorities called off a planned "march against fear" in the jittery capital on Sunday to relieve pressure on the police.

The suicide bomb attacks targeting Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train on Tuesday killed 31 people, including three of the attackers, and injured hundreds more. Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

After a series of raids and arrests in Belgium and Gemany since the attacks, Algerian Djamal Eddine Ouali, 40, was arrested by Italy's DIGOS anti-terrorism police in southern Italy, Italian media said on Saturday.

The Sky TG 24 television and other media reports said he was the subject of an arrest warrant issued by Belgium for producing and procuring false documents to be used in illegal immigration.

His name was found in documents in a raid in an apartment near Brussels last October, including some documents with photos of some of the militants involved in the attacks in Paris and in Brussels and the aliases they used, the reports said.

Of the three men charged on Saturday, Belgian prosecutors named one as Faycal C. Belgian media identified him as Faycal Cheffou and said he was "the man in the hat", as he has become known, in last Tuesday's airport CCTV footage that showed three men pushing baggage trolleys bearing luggage.

The two others in the picture are believed to have blown themselves up.

Cheffou was charged with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, and actual and attempted terrorist murder.

The other two charged on Saturday, Aboubakar A. and Rabah N., were accused of terrorist activities and membership of a terrorist group.

Rabah N. was wanted in connection with a related raid in France this week that authorities say foiled an attack plot.

Security call

Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told Le Soir newspaper that Cheffou, who said he was a freelance journalist, was "dangerous" and that he had been detained a number of times at a park where he sought to encourage asylum seekers camped there to turn to militancy.

The authorities also said that a man arrested on Friday after being shot in the leg at a tram stop in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek was being held for a further 24 hours.

He was identified as Abderamane A. and was one of three people arrested on Friday.

That operation was linked to the arrest in Paris on Thursday of an Islamist convicted in Belgium last year and suspected of plotting a new attack, Belgian prosecutors said.

German lawmakers said Europe urgently needed to improve the way its security agencies share information amid increasing signs the same network was behind the attacks in Brussels and those in Paris in November that killed 130 people.

Organisers called off Sunday's Belgian solidarity march after officials including the city's mayor urged people to stay away in order to spare the over-taxed police force.

"The security of our citizens is an absolute priority," said march organiser Emmanuel Foulon.

Officials said 24 victims from nine different nationalities had been identified so far from the attacks in Brussels, which is the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Four people remain unidentified.

Highlighting the jittery national mood, the murder this week of a security guard employed at a site in Belgium holding radioactive materials has stoked debate about the risks of militants attempting some kind of nuclear attack.

On Saturday prosecutors denied media reports that the security guard had had his access badge stolen and the implication it could have been a motive for his murder.

Late last year, investigators found a video tracking the movements of a man linked to Belgium's nuclear industry during a search of a flat as part of investigations into the Paris attacks.

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