Paris terror suspect Mohamed Abrini arrested in Belgium

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Mohamed Abrini. Photo: CNN

BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities announced the arrest Friday of Mohamed Abrini, suspected of driving those involved in the Paris terror attacks.

Abrini was one of two people arrested, said Eric Van der Sypt, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office. He identified the other as Osama Krayem.

Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian-Moroccan, had been among Europe’s most wanted and was considered “armed and dangerous.”

“For French investigators, this can be very big,” CNN’s Nic Robertson said.

The arrest would mean authorities now have captured two people suspected of playing a direct role in the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people, including Salah Abdeslam, the alleged eighth planned attacker. Abdeslam was arrested last month in Belgium shortly before the Brussels attacks.

“As an investigator, this gives you a much stronger position to be in to get to the truth … to run other terrorists on the run down,” Robertson said. “And also to understand precisely what happened in Paris.”

Abrini one of Europe’s most wanted

According to a European police cooperative known as ENFAST, video showed Abrini with Abdeslam on November 11, two days before the massacre in the French capital.

The same Renault Clio that Abrini drove was used in those attacks, ENFAST reports. Abdeslam told authorities he drove a car of that same make and model to the Stade de France — where suicide bombers detonated explosives outside a soccer game — and abandoned it.

He then wandered into the subway and allegedly “contacted one person,” Abrini, CNN’s French affiliate BFMTV reported.

Abrini has a criminal record of violent theft. He also had a younger brother killed while fighting for ISIS in 2014, and he was in Istanbul, Turkey, briefly last summer and possibly in Syria.

Relatives have insisted Abrini was in Brussels the night of the Paris attacks.

Reputation as hotbed for jihadists

Friday’s arrest is the latest connection between the Belgian and French attacks.

Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood has developed a reputation as a hotbed for jihadists. Several of those people involved in the Paris attacks called it home.

A senior counterterrorism official has said Abdeslam was probably going to be part of an attack planned by the ISIS cell that carried out the Brussels carnage. The 26-year-old was captured in Molenbeek four days before the March 22 attacks in Brussels.

The bombings at the Maelbeek metro station and the Brussels Airport killed 32 people.

CNN intelligence analyst Bob Baer, a former CIA operative who worked in Belgium, criticized Belgian authorities for not working better with other countries. He also said they hadn’t cracked down on crime and weapons dealers and didn’t have strong enough connections in communities that have spawned jihadists.

“They’ve been in denial all these years — it’s not our problem — until (terrorists) attacked,” Baer said. “… Then it did become their problem. But police have a long way to go before they manage this.”

Baer said that high unemployment and the lack of opportunity for youths in places such as Molenbeek doesn’t help.

“Ninety-nine percent of Muslims in Belgium integrate just fine, have jobs and families and the rest of it,” said Baer, co-author with Seymour Hersh of “See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War Against Terrorism.”

“But it’s that troubled, very small minority which is susceptible to this call to death.”