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Jihadist denies being Brussels attacks ‘mastermind’: report

Jihadist Oussama Atar denied investigators’ claims that he was the “mastermind” of the Brussels attacks in March that left 32 dead in a letter to his mother, a Belgian newspaper reported on Saturday.

La Derniere Heure (DH) published the entire letter — without explaining how it obtained a copy — that the daily said came from the 32-year-old Moroccan-Belgian, whoi is believed to be based in Syria.

“No, I am not the mentor or mastermind who directed the Brussels attacks and I wasn’t aware of what Brahim and Khalid were planning (may Allah have mercy on them),” Atar wrote, referring to the El Bakraoui brothers, distant cousins who were two of the three suicide bombers responsible for the Brussels attacks.

Atar is believed to be a member of the Islamic State group and is also suspected of being a key plotter of the Paris attacks in November last year.

The letter, sent to Atar’s mother Malika Benhattal after connecting with one of his sisters through Facebook, made no mention of the Paris attacks.

Investigators believe that Atar, using the pseudonym Abou Ahmad, was one of the commanders of the attacks both in Brussels and in Paris, which will mark the first anniversary of the massacre that killed 130 people on Sunday.

Regarding his current whereabouts, he told his mother he was not in Europe and had no plans to return as he blasted the “lies” said about him and the “war” against his family.

“No, I am not Osama bin Laden, nor the right hand of (IS chief) Abu Bakr Baghdadi,” Atar wrote, adding that “at no time” did he meet the latter “in prison or elsewhere”.

He has been on the radar of European security forces for more than a decade.

After being arrested in Iraq in 2004 following the US-led invasion of the country, he spent time in various jails including the notorious Abu Ghraib prison used by American forces.

After being released, in 2012 he returned to Belgium, whose intelligence and police forces have faced fierce criticism about the development of jihadist networks in Brussels.

Atar was one of the “most wanted in Belgium and even in Europe”, a Belgian police source told AFP in August, when his sister Asma and their mother were briefly detained by police.

French investigators were able to link him to the Paris attacks following the arrests of two suspected extremists, an Algerian and a Pakistani, detained in Austria last December.