Brussels bombers had planned to hit France again: prosecutors

Paris attack Suspect Arrested And May Have Attacked Brussels Too

The militant cell behind bombings in Brussels had been plotting to hit France again after carrying out the Paris attacks but was forced to strike closer to home as police closed in, Belgian prosecutors said on Sunday.

Investigations into the Islamic State attacks in Paris in November which killed 130 people showed many of the perpetrators lived in Belgium, including surviving suspects who managed to evade police for more than four months.

SEE ALSO: Brussels bomb: Police arrest another suspect amid raid in Etterbeek

Prime suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested by police on March 18 after a shootout in the Belgian capital. Four days later, suicide bombers killed 32 people in attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train.

"Numerous elements in the investigation have shown that the terrorist group initially had the intention to strike in France again," Belgium's federal prosecutor said in a statement.

"Surprised by the speed of progress in the investigation, they took the decision to strike in Brussels," the prosecutor said.

Born and raised in Belgium to Moroccan-born parents, Abdeslam told a magistrate he planned to blow himself up at a sports stadium in Paris but backed out at the last minute. His brother Brahim blew himself up at a Paris cafe.

Scenes from Brussels one day after the attacks:

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Brussels one day after the attacks
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Brussels bombers had planned to hit France again: prosecutors
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: A man wears the Belgian flag as people observe a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: A woman pauses for thought after people observed a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: People observe a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: A sad face is drawn on a Belgian flag near Maelbeek metro station following yesterday's attack, on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: Flowers and tributes, to the victims and injured, continue to adorn the Place de la Bourse following yesterday's terrorists attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: Sonia (surname witheld) embraces her children Mateo and Alessia at The Place de la Bourse as she pays her respects to victims following yesterday's terrorists attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: A Belgian flag and a sign readng 'United Against Hatred' hangs from the Bourse De Brussels bulding in the Place de la Bourse following yesterday's terrorists attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: People observe a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: People pay their respects to the victims and injured at The Place de la Bourse following yesterday's terrorists attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: People applaud after a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: A woman covers her face near Maelbeek metro station as she reacts following yesterday's attack, on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: Flowers are placed near Maelbeek metro station following yesterday's attack, on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: People observe a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: Flowers and tributes, to the victims and injured, continue to adorn the Place de la Bourse following yesterday's terrorists attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: A woman weeps after people observed a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: Sonia (surname witheld) embraces her children Mateo and Alessia at The Place de la Bourse as she pays her respects to victims following yesterday's terrorists attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 23: People observe a one minute silence at the Place De La Bourse in honour of the victims of yesterdays' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. Belgium is observing three days of national mourning after 34 people were killed in a twin suicide blast at Zaventem Airport and a further bomb attack at Maelbeek Metro Station. Two brothers are thought to have carried out the airport attack and an international manhunt is underway for a third suspect. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A person flashes a victory sign at a gathering in Brussels following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
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Another man linked to the Paris attacks, Mohamed Abrini, was arrested in Brussels on Friday and he has admitted to being the "man in the hat" captured on video walking into Brussels airport alongside two suicide bombers.

Abrini, 31, has been charged with terrorist murders, prosecutors said.

Belgian intelligence and security forces had been criticized from abroad for not doing more to dismantle the militant cell, because of its links to the Paris attacks, though as of Friday all known suspects were either in detention or dead.

Belgium maintained its second highest threat level, however, on Sunday with Prime Minister Charles Michel saying his government would remain alert.

Another main suspect who was seen alongside the suicide bomber in the Brussels metro and identified by prosecutors as Osama K was also arrested on Friday in the Belgian capital.

Osama K, 28, widely named by media as Swedish national Osama Krayem, was filmed buying the bags used to carry the Brussels bombs. Like Abrini, his fingerprints were found in an apartment used as a bomb factory and safe house for the attackers.

As with other suspects in both the Paris and Brussels attacks, police believe Krayem returned last summer from fighting with Islamic State in Syria aboard refugee boats reaching Greek islands.

(Editing by David Clarke)

RELATED: Photos of suspects in the Paris attacks

3 PHOTOS
Suspects in the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Salah Abdeslam, Ahmad Almohammad
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Brussels bombers had planned to hit France again: prosecutors
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, suspected mastermind of the #ParisAttacks was "interviewed" in #ISIS's Dabiq magazine https://t.co/wSKmztFfn5
BREAKING: Third Bataclan attacker identified as Foued Mohamed-Aggad https://t.co/FYwEykV9Kp https://t.co/7g6vH7gvwH
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