A Brussels-based terror cell intended to launch a new strike in France, but hit closer to home, prosecutors say. They said the terrorists changed their plans after being "surprised" by a quick-moving investigation.
The terrorist cell, which was directly involved in the November attacks on Paris that killed 130 people, "initially had the intention to strike in France again," Belgian prosecutors said on Sunday.
"Surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels," Belgium's Federal Prosecution Office stated.
Instead of another attack in France, they decided to rush an attack on Brussels. Two suicide bombers killed 16 people at Brussels Airport on March 22. A subsequent explosion at Brussels' Maelbeek subway station killed another 16 people on the same day.
Investigators found links between the cell behind the Brussels attacks and the group that launched the deadly strikes on Paris in November.
On Saturday, Belgian authorities charged four men with participating in "terrorist murders" and the "activities of a terrorist group" in relation to the Brussels attacks.
Second-highest terror alert remains
One of them is Mohamed Abrini, who was also charged in relation to the Paris attacks, according to Belgian prosecutors. He was identified as the "man in the hat" spotted alongside the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up on March 22 at Brussels Airport.
He was a childhood friend of the brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam, both suspects in the Paris attacks, and had ties to Abdelhamid Abbaoud, the Paris attackers' ringleader, who died in a French police raid.
Mohamed Abrini was also believed to have traveled to Syria, where his younger brother died in 2014 in the Islamic State's Francophone brigade.
Brussels remains under the second-highest terror alert after this week's arrests.
"There are perhaps other cells that are still active on our territory," Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon told RTL television on Saturday.
das/tj (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)