Defiant Belgians gather as 2nd France plot suspect charged

27th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Belgians gathered Sunday in solidarity and defiance in central Brussels to remember victims of the country's worst-ever terror attacks as prosecutors charged a second man over a foiled attack in France.

As mourners gathered at a square which has been transformed into a shrine to the victims of Tuesday's attacks on the airport and the metro system, prosecutors said they had charged a second man with involvement in a terror group over a foiled plot to strike France.

It was the latest piece in the puzzle of the jihadist networks straddling France and Belgium.

The suspect, Abderamane A., was the second person to be charged by Brussels prosecutors in as many days in connection with Thursday's arrest of a man in Paris who had assault weapons and explosives in his flat and who was allegedly plotting a new attack in France.

In a bid to allow police to devote all their resources to tracking down the Islamic State cell linked to Tuesday's Brussels attacks and the November carnage in Paris, officials asked organisers to postpone an Easter Sunday march.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Crisis Centre said 28 people had died in the airport and metro attacks, down from an initial toll of 31 which had included the three suicide bombers.

Of the 28 who died, 24 have been identified, among them 13 Belgians and 11 foreign nationals, it said. A total 340 people from 19 countries were wounded, of whom 101 remain in hospital -- 62 of them in intensive care.

"Not in the name of Islam," read one banner on the columns of the stately former stock exchange building in Brussels city centre where people, some tearful, milled around under the watchful gaze of heavily-armed police and soldiers.

"This is our dream," read another among a sea of flags from all over the world, as the carpet of flowers, candles and messages grew steadily larger.

"I come here every evening and stay here until midnight in a gesture of solidarity," said Mohamed Said Si Ahmed Haddi, 50, a Belgian from Algeria.

"We must not hide away."

In a homily at the nearby medieval cathedral of Saints-Michel-et-Gudule, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Malines-Brussels Jozef de Kesel said the attacks "defy understanding."

"We are confronted with evil on an unimaginable scale which causes so much innocent and useless suffering," the Belga news agency quoted de Kesel as saying.

"Easter celebrates victory over evil," he added.

As Belgium tries to come to terms with the tragedy, recriminations continue over whether the authorities could and should have done more to prevent the carnage as the links with the Paris massacre grow clearer by the day.

- Algerian held in Italy -

Overnight, Italian police arrested an Algerian national in connection with the production of fake ID documents used by the Paris and Brussels attackers, suggesting their networks spread far and wide and will not be easy to dismantle.

On Saturday, a man widely thought to be the fugitive third bomber from the airport was charged in Brussels with terrorist murder and participation in a terrorist group. He was the first suspect to be formally charged over Tuesday's attacks.

Federal prosecutors identified the man, who was arrested on Thursday, as Faycal C, with a source close to the inquiry giving his full name as Faycal Cheffou.

There has been intense speculation he is the man wearing a dark hat and light-coloured jacket seen in airport surveillance footage alongside Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui who blew themselves up.

A source close to the inquiry told AFP: "That is a hypothesis the investigators are working on."

Brussels Airport meanwhile said an examination of the building housing the wrecked departure hall showed the structure was stable and authorities will now see if temporary check-in desks can be installed.

It had earlier said it would not reopen before Tuesday, with a partial resumption of passenger services, as it repaired the damage and put in place new security measures.

- 'An endless nightmare' -

Ministers insist they did everything possible to prevent Tuesday's attacks and track down a network also linked to the Paris attacks but the government has faced a torrent of criticism for failing to stop young Belgian fighters going to Syria.

Two senior ministers offered to resign after it emerged airport bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui had been deported from Turkey as a "terrorist fighter."

"It is an endless nightmare for a country turned upside down," said Le Soir daily in a front-page editorial.

It was a sharp change of tone from a week ago when it hailed the March 18 arrest in central Brussels of key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam.


© 2016 AFP

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