Belgium charges 11th person over Paris attacks

22nd January 2016, Comments 0 comments

A Belgian judge on Friday charged an 11th person with terrorism-related offences over the deadly Paris attacks, two days after the suspect was arrested in a raid in Brussels.

The man identified as Zakaria J. "has been charged with terrorist murders and participation in the activities of a terrorist group", the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The Belgian national, who was arrested in the troubled immigrant neighbourhood of Molenbeek on Wednesday, is being kept in police custody, it added.

Ten other people have been charged in Belgium under the investigation into the attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more in the French capital on November 13.

The prosecutors declined to deny or confirm Belgian media reports that Zakaria J. is considered close to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the presumed mastermind of the attacks who was killed in a French police raid days after the massacre.

Under Belgian law, Zakaria J. must appear within five days before a court which will decide whether he should remain in custody.

The suspect, who was born in 1986, was arrested Wednesday, a day before police carrying out another raid in Molenbeek detained Mustafa E., a Moroccan national who was born in 1981.

Mustafa E. was arrested and released on Thursday, the statement said.

No weapons or explosives were found in the raids in Molenbeek, an area dubbed a hotbed of jihadists which has seen a string of police raids since the Paris attacks.

French President Francois Hollande has said the Paris attacks were decided in Syria but prepared and organised in Belgium. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

- Safe houses -

Last week Belgium said it had identified three safe houses used by key suspects including Abaaoud.

The premises include a flat in Charleroi, a town south of the capital Brussels where a major airport is located, a house in the rural village of Auvelais near the French border, and a flat in Brussels.

Four suspects remain at large, including Salah Abdeslam who allegedly drove suicide bombers to the French national stadium outside Paris, as well as Mohamed Abrini, suspected of having helped scout out the attack sites. Both are from Molenbeek.

Prosecutors said Belgian national Ayoub Bazarouj, 22, who was arrested December 30 during a raid on a house in Molenbeek, was released Friday, making him the second among the 11 charged to be released while still facing charges.

The cases against the two do not appear to be strong.

Federal prosecutors' spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said Bazarouj, who has two extremist brothers and a sister who left for Syria, remains charged with "terrorist murder" and involvement in the activities of a terrorist group.

Bazarouj was arrested after alluding to Salah Abdeslam, a fugitive from the Paris attacks, during telephone conversations but these were just "jokes," Bazarouj's lawyer Yannick De Vlamynck said.


© 2016 AFP

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