Brussels: The Brussels-based Islamic State jihadists behind the Paris attacks had planned a fresh strike in France but targeted the Belgian capital instead as police closed in, a prosecutor said Sunday.
Belgium`s federal prosecutor also announced that the so-called "man in the hat" Mohamed Abrini, seen in CCTV footage at Brussels airport before the bombings last month, had been charged with "terrorist murders."
Suicide bombers killed 32 people at the airport and a metro station on March 22, and left a trail leading directly to the November attacks in Paris which left 130 dead.
"Numerous elements in the investigation have shown that the terrorist group initially had the intention to strike in France again," the federal prosecutor`s office said in a statement.
"Surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation, they urgently took the decision to strike in Brussels."The prosecutor gave no further details, but the Brussels bombings followed the March 18 arrest of top Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam after four months on the run.
"It`s extra proof of the very high threats to the whole of Europe and to France in particular," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said of the prosecutor`s statement. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve added that France would remain on high alert for the indefinite future.
"We are still facing a high level of threat... It (the work of the police and judiciary) is a long process, it will go on for a long time," he said.
Abrini, who grew up with Abdeslam in the troubled Molenbeek area, was charged Sunday with "participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempts to commit terrorist murders".
On Saturday, the judge leading the Belgian investigation into the Paris carnage had laid the same charges against Abrini, the day after his arrest.
The 31-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin confessed to being "the man in the hat" who calmly walked away from the devastated Brussels airport departure hall, the prosecutor said Saturday.
He returned on foot to central Brussels, discarding his hat and coat on the way before disappearing into thin air as police launched a fresh public appeal for help.Abrini was a long-time petty criminal who grew up in Molenbeek, home to several other suspects who all share a similar story of getting on the wrong side of the law and becoming radicalised.
One of the Brussels airport bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, left behind what the Belgian authorities described as a "will" on a computer in which he said he felt "hunted" and "I don`t know what to do."
The other airport bomber was Najim Laachraoui whose DNA was found on a suicide vest discovered at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris where 90 people were killed.