Mohamed Abrini is a Belgian citizen, U.S.-designated terrorist operative, and a suspect 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 16 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—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 is believed to have had links to the November 2015 Paris attacks. On November 11, 2015—two days before the 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 has 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 ISIS gunman 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 arrest, Abrini reportedly admitted his intention to be the third would-be bomber in the March 22, 2016 Zaventam 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. Abrini faces multiple life sentences from both Belgian and French charges related to the two attacks.Peter Allen, “Paris and Brussels attack prime suspect charged with terrorism offenses and faces multiple life sentences,” Mirror (London), January 30, 2017, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/paris-brussels-attacks-prime-suspect-9722901.
On July 1, 2021, Belgium transferred Abrini to France to stand trial in September for his involvement in the 2015 Paris attacks. Abrini is set to be returned to Belgium once the trial concludes.“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. The trial is expected to last nine months, with September being dedicated to police and forensic evidence, October to victims’ testimony, and November and December dedicated to the testimony of officials. Among those officials will be former French president Francois Hollande and the relatives of the attackers.“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.
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.
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.