The initial objective was to hit France again, says Mohamed Abrini

“The plan fell through after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam. On March 18, 2016, the jihadist commando at Brussels airport suddenly had to change targets. This was explained by Mohamed Abrini, one of the main defendants in the trial of the attacks of March 22, 2016 and the only survivor of the commando, on the occasion of the first day of interrogation of the defendants on the facts.

“The initial plan was to strike again in Paris during the European Football Cup, not Belgium,” he explains. The arrest of Salah Abdeslam and the discovery of the “stashes” forced the Brussels jihadist cell to rush its plans by targeting the airport and the metro in the Belgian capital, detailed Mohamed Abrini. This is the first time that the accused has spoken publicly about this change of plan, which he had revealed in 2016 to Belgian investigators, and which was also mentioned at the trial of the Paris attacks.

A step back from women and children

The planned attack in Paris during the Euro had been brought to light after the discovery of an audio file in a hideout of jihadists in Brussels. Nicknamed “the man with the hat”, Mohamed Abrini, a 38-year-old Belgian-Moroccan, had given up at the last moment to participate in the attacks of November 13 in Paris by returning to Brussels the day before the attacks. He had also given up at the last moment on detonating his bomb at Brussels airport, leaving Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui to blow themselves up without him.

Ibrahim El Bakraoui had two bombs, one made of 30 kg of explosives and another of 20 kg in a backpack, said Mohamed Abrini. The accused, who was carrying 20 kg of explosives himself, said he had given up trying to trigger his bomb when he saw “women and children” in the queue where he was to take action. “I see them from afar, I turn around directly. I tell them I don’t do that,” he explained.

After a first day of interrogation devoted to the personality of the nine defendants, the Brussels Assize Court began Thursday a “cross-examination” on the facts. The accused are not questioned one after the other but together around specific themes.

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