Mohamed Abrini is a Belgian citizen, U.S.-designated terrorist operative, and a convicted participant in ISIS’s November 2015 Paris attacks and March 2016 Brussels bombings. He was arrested by Belgian authorities in April 2016 after security officials identified him as the “man in the hat” captured on security cameras at Brussels’ Zaventem airport during the March 2016 bombings, which killed 32 people.Umberto Bacchi, “Europe’s most wanted: Mafia boss and Islamist attacker in EU’s top fugitives list,” International Business Times, January 29, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/europes-most-wanted-mafia-boss-islamist-attacker-eus-top-fugitives-list-154086;
“Paris attacks suspect Abrini arrested: Belgian broadcaster VRT,” Reuters, April 8, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-abrini-arrest-idUSKCN0X51QK?utm_source=twitter. Belgian authorities charged Abrini with participating in terrorist acts, terrorist murders, and activities of a terrorist group.Chris Johnston, “Mohamed Abrini admits to being ‘man in the hat’ at Brussels airport,” Guardian (London), April 9, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/09/paris-attacks-suspect-mohamed-abrini-charged-with-terrorist-murders. Abrini and seven others were convicted on July 25, 2023.Paul Kirby, “Brussels bombers found guilty after long murder trial,” BBC News, July 25, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66299186; Belgian court finds eight guilty of murder over 2016 Brussels bombings,” Reuters, July 25, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/belgian-court-finds-eight-guilty-murder-over-2016-brussels-bombings-2023-07-25/; Nicolas Camut, “8 men found guilty of 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks,” Politico, July 25, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/8-men-found-guilty-of-2016-brussels-terrorist-attacks/.
Abrini—a former drug dealer previously imprisoned on charges of petty crimes and robberies—is believed to have traveled to Syria at some point in 2015.Umberto Bacchi, “Manhunt for last Isis Paris attacks fugitives: Who are Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini?” International Business Times, March 21, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/manhunt-last-isis-paris-attacks-fugitives-who-are-najim-laachraoui-mohamed-abrini-1550800;
Tom Whitehead, Henry Samuel and Peter Foster, “Brussels attacks: who are the likely terror suspects behind the attack?” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/belgium/12200965/Brussels-explosions-who-are-the-likely-terror-suspects-behind-the-attack.html. Abrini grew up in now infamous Molenbeek, home to Salah Abdeslam, Abdeslam’s brother, and fellow Paris attacker Ibrahim, as well as alleged attacks coordinator Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Molenbeek is considered a hotbed of extremism, a major producer of foreign fighters to Syria, and a destination for obtaining illegal weaponry. The neighborhood is associated with an impressive roster of violent extremists, including suspected August 2015 train assailant Ayoub El Khazzani and May 2014 Brussels Jewish Museum shooter Mehdi Nemmouche.Liam Stack, “How Belgium Became Home to Recent Terror Plots,” New York Times, November 15, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/15/world/europe/belgium-terrorism-suspects.html; Tim Hume, “Brussels raids: Police hit Molenbeek, area at heart of Belgium's jihadist threat,” CNN, November 16, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/15/europe/paris-attacks-belgium-molenbeek/. Abrini was nicknamed “Brioche” because he worked in a bakery in Molenbeek. He frequented a neighborhood bar run by the Abdeslam brothers. Police shut the bar down in September 2015 after receiving complaints of drug deals taking place at the establishment.Robert-Jan Bartunek and Alastair Macdonald, “Belgians seize key suspects in Paris, Brussels attacks,” Reuters, April 8, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-abrini-arrest-idUSKCN0X51QK.
On November 11, 2015—two days before the Paris attacks—Abrini was filmed in a gas station with “childhood friend” and Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.Tom Whitehead, Henry Samuel and Peter Foster, “Brussels attacks: who are the likely terror suspects behind the attack?” Telegraph (London), March 24, 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/belgium/12200965/Brussels-explosions-who-are-the-likely-terror-suspects-behind-the-attack.html. Abrini drove with Abdeslam in a Renault Clio that was used during the attacks. According to the Belgian prosecutor’s office, Abdeslam had intended to participate in the attacks by detonating a suicide bomb near France’s national sports stadium north of Paris, but ultimately backed out.Alastair MacDonald and John Irish, “'I was a suicide bomber': Paris suspect charged in Belgium,” Reuters, March 20, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-abdeslam-idUSKCN0WK1KB. Abdeslam was captured by Belgian police in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek on March 18, 2016, and Abrini was captured a few weeks later in Molenbeek on April 8.“Salah Abdeslam arrêté à Molenbeek, les opérations toujours en cours (direct vidéo),” Le Soir (Brussels), March 18, 2016, http://www.lesoir.be/1155105/article/actualite/belgique/2016-03-18/salah-abdeslam-arrete-molenbeek-operations-toujours-en-cours-direct-video; “Paris attacks suspect Abrini arrested: Belgian broadcaster VRT,” Reuters, April 8, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-abrini-arrest-idUSKCN0X51QK. Given Abrini’s alleged role in the Paris attacks, he was listed as one of Europol’s “Most Wanted Men” on January 29, 2016.Umberto Bacchi, “Manhunt for last Isis Paris attacks fugitives: Who are Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini?” International Business Times, March 21, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/manhunt-last-isis-paris-attacks-fugitives-who-are-najim-laachraoui-mohamed-abrini-1550800. Following the Brussels bombings and given Abrini’s connection to the Paris attacks, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Abrini as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on August 3, 2016.“Counter Terrorism Designations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 3, 2016, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20160803.
Abrini was arrested alongside fellow suspects Osama Krayem, Herve BN, and Bilal EM. While in custody, Abrini admitted that ISIS was originally planning to launch another attack on France, but that the group changed its target to Belgium following that country’s March 18, 2016, arrest of Salah Abdeslam.Kim Willsher, “Brussels terror cell ‘planned to attack 2016 Euro tournament’,” Guardian (London), April 11, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/11/brussels-terror-cell-planned-to-attack-euro-2016-tournament. Following the arrest, Abrini reportedly admitted his intention to be the third would-be bomber in the March 22, 2016, Zaventem airport attack—along with former ISIS fighter Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and suspected bomb-maker Najim Laachraoui—but said that he fled before detonating his device.Chris Johnston, “Mohamed Abrini admits to being ‘man in the hat’ at Brussels airport,” Guardian (London), April 9, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/09/paris-attacks-suspect-mohamed-abrini-charged-with-terrorist-murders.
On January 30, 2017, Belgium surrendered Abrini to French authorities for one day so that they could charge him for involvement in the November 2015 Paris attacks.“France charges suspected Brussels bomber over Paris attacks,” France24, January 30, 2017, http://www.france24.com/en/20170130-france-brussels-bomber-abrini-questioning-over-paris-attacks. He was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, complicity in explosives manufacturing and transportation, and other offenses related to the attacks.“Brussels airport terror suspect charged over Paris attacks,” Belfast Telegraph, January 30, 2017, http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/world-news/brussels-airport-terror-suspect-charged-over-paris-attacks-35409158.html.
On July 1, 2021, Belgium transferred Abrini to France to stand trial in September for his involvement in the 2015 Paris attacks. “Belgium Sends Suspect To France For Paris Attack Trial,” Agence France Presse, July 1, 2021, https://www.barrons.com/news/belgium-sends-suspect-to-france-for-paris-attack-trial-01625151007?tesla=y. On September 8, 2021, French authorities began a trial at Paris’s Palais de Justice courthouse with almost 1,800 plaintiffs pressing charges against Abrini and 19 other defendants. The other 19 defendants—six of whom were to be tried in absentia—faced charges ranging from being accomplices to murder and hostage-taking to helping plan the 2015 attacks.Aurelien Breeden, “Trial Begins Over November 2015 Paris Terrorist Attacks,” New York Times, September 8, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/08/world/europe/paris-terror-attacks-trial.html. Abrini denied allegations of his participation in the attack to the French court on September 16, claiming, “in this evil that happened in France, I am neither the commander nor the architect. I provided no logistical nor financial help.”“Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam tells court the deaths of 130 people were 'nothing personal'” Sky News, September 16, 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/paris-attacks-suspect-salah-abdeslam-tells-court-the-deaths-of-130-people-were-nothing-personal-12408861. Abrini later admitted to driving some of the Paris attackers to the capital. On June 29, 2022, Abrini was convicted on charges including complicity to terrorist murder. Abdeslam and 18 others were also convicted. Abrini was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum sentence of 22 years.“20 convicted in Paris terrorist attacks trial: Who they are,” Associated Press, June 20, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/who-are-paris-terror-attack-suspects-ad764ae48d055abb1270f272f1a8324e; “Paris trial: Salah Abdeslam guilty as historic trial ends,” BBC News, June 30, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61989354. Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and terrorism charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.George Bowden, “Paris attacks: Surviving suspect Salah Abdeslam found guilty,” BBC News, June 29, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61989354.
On December 5, 2022, Belgian authorities began a trial of Abrini, Abdeslam, and eight others accused of involvement in the 2016 Brussels attacks.Philip Blenkinsop and Marine Strauss, “Brussels bombing trial opens with strong emotions,” Reuters, December 5, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/belgium-starts-trial-into-brussels-bombings-2022-12-05/. On July 25, 2023, the court convicted Abrini and seven others of complicity in the attacks. The court also convicted Oussama Atar, Osama Krayem, Ali El Haddad Asufi, and Bilal El Makhoukhi. Two men, a Tunisian and a Rwandan, were cleared of murder but were convicted of taking part in terrorist activities, along with the other six. Brothers Smail and Ibrahim Farisi were cleared of all charges. The sentencing phase of the trial is expected to begin in September 2023.Paul Kirby, “Brussels bombers found guilty after long murder trial,” BBC News, July 25, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66299186; Belgian court finds eight guilty of murder over 2016 Brussels bombings,” Reuters, July 25, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/belgian-court-finds-eight-guilty-murder-over-2016-brussels-bombings-2023-07-25/; Nicolas Camut, “8 men found guilty of 2016 Brussels terrorist attacks,” Politico, July 25, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/8-men-found-guilty-of-2016-brussels-terrorist-attacks/.
- Extremist entity
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Insurgent, territory-controlling, religious, terrorist, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Islamist, jihadist, pan-Islamist, Salafist, takfiri
- Facilitator (suspected)
ISIS is a violent jihadist group based in Iraq and Syria. The group has declared wilayas (provinces) in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the North Caucasus. ISIS has also waged attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Iraq, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, and Kuwait.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Mohamed Abrini as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on August 3, 2016.“Counter Terrorism Designations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 3, 2016, https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20160803.
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
On October 27, 2018, domestic terrorist Robert D. Bowers carried out an anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He fired on congregants as they gathered for worship, killing 11 people and wounding six others.