Paper: Brussels attackers were targeting nuclear plant, changed their minds

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Belgium Ups Security at Nuclear Plants Following Brussels Bombings

BRUSSELS, March 24 (Reuters) - Suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Brussels were originally considering an attack on a nuclear site in Belgium, but arrests started last week may have forced them switch to targets in the Belgian capital, the DH newspaper said.

Referring to an incident in December that prosecutors confirmed in which militants covertly filmed the home of an unidentified senior official in the nuclear industry, the paper quoted a police source as saying that two of the suicide bombers, brothers Khalid and Ibrahim Bakraoui, had filmed the daily routine of the head of Belgium's nuclear research and development program.

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A 10-hour video from a camera hidden in front of the nuclear official's house was found in December during a police raid in Belgium, linked to the Paris attacks a month before.

On February 17, Belgian prosecutors confirmed the existence of the video seized in December and said the man in it was linked to the country's nuclear industry.

Earlier this month, 140 soldiers were dispatched to guard the country's three nuclear sites. On Tuesday after the Brussels bombings, the sites were sealed and non-essential staff evacuated as a precaution.

While investigators had known the camera with the video had been removed from its concealment by two men, they did not know their identity. DH said it was now clear that it was the two brothers.

Investigators were not available for comment.

See photos of the international security response in wake of the attacks:

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Brussels Attacks: International security response
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Paper: Brussels attackers were targeting nuclear plant, changed their minds
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 22: (FRANCE OUT) French police officers patrol at the Trocadero Plaza next to the Eiffel Tower on March 22, 2106 in Paris, France. Since this morning 400 policemen and gendarmes have been deployed to increase the security in airports, stations and public transportation around Paris and its region after the terrorist attacks in Brussels today. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 22: (FRANCE OUT) French police officers patrol at the Trocadero Plaza next to the Eiffel Tower on March 22, 2106 in Paris, France. Since this morning 400 policemen and gendarmes have been deployed to increase the security in airports, stations and public transportation around Paris and its region after the terrorist attacks in Brussels today. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)
PARIS, March 22, 2016-- Police officers patrol at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, capital of France, March 22, 2016. Security has been beefed up in France with 1,600 police officers deployed at airports, railway stations and bus stations since the attacks on Brussels Tuesday. (Xinhua/Theo Duval via Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - MARCH 22: Hungarian counter-terrorism agents secure the Liszt Ferenc International Airport in Budapest, Hungary on March 22, 2016 following high level security alert following the morning explosions in Brussels. At least 34 people were killed and more than 100 injured in multiple explosions at an airport and metro station in Brussels on today's morning. (Photo by Arpad Kurucz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Any plans for an assault on a nuclear site might have been foiled by a police operation last week in the Brussels borough of Forest, the newspaper said. In that raid, officers unexpectedly stumbled upon armed men in a flat that was searched in connection to the Paris attacks investigation.

One of the men in the flat, later identified as an Algerian national called Mohammed Belkaid, was killed by police in a shootout and police believe one or two others may have escaped.

But clues found in the flat led the police to the arrest three days later of the prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam and another suspected militant Amine Choukri also using the name of Monir Ahmed Alaaj.

The arrests may have forced the hand of the attackers who decided to shift to targets in Brussels, focusing on the airport and metro: "There is no doubt that they rushed their operations because they felt under pressure," the police source was quoted by DH as saying.

"Even if one couldn't prevent these (Brussels) attacks, one can say that their magnitude could have been much bigger if the terrorists had been able to implement their original plan and not opted for easier targets," said the police source.

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