Brussels group ‘planned to hit France’

Media captionDamian Grammaticas: “After months of criticism, this is a significant day for Belgian investigators”

The suspected surviving bomber in the Brussels attacks has admitted the group was initially planning a new attack on France, Belgian prosecutors say.

Mohamed Abrini said the group had decided to attack Brussels instead after the arrest of fellow suspect Salah Abdeslam.

He also reportedly admitted being the third bomber in the airport attack, fleeing without setting off his device.

Gun and bomb attacks in Paris on 13 November killed 130 people.

A further 32 were killed in the attacks on an airport and metro station in Brussels on 22 March.

Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group, based in Syria and Iraq.

Abrini, who was arrested in Brussels on Friday, reportedly told interrogators that the arrest of Abdeslam on 18 March had prompted the plotters to change track.

Surprised by the speed at which police were closing in on them, the group had “finally taken an urgent decision to hit Brussels”, prosecutors quoted Abrini as saying.

Media captionThe aunt of one of the Brussels suspects spoke to the media, as Ben Bland reports

Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, confessed to being the “man in the hat” seen in CCTV video of the airport bombers, after being confronted with the evidence, prosecutors said earlier.

“He said that he had thrown away his jacket in a rubbish bin and sold his hat after the attack,” the statement added.

There was no immediate comment from the suspect’s lawyer.

Abrini’s fingerprints and DNA were found in two “safe houses” in Brussels, as well as in a car used during the Paris attacks, investigators say.

The BBC’s Damian Grammaticas, in Brussels, says the apparent confirmation that Abrini is the man seen in the airport footage is a “huge” development for Belgian authorities, whose response to the attacks has come in for criticism.

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