VIENNA, April 11, (AFP): Austrian prosecutors said Monday they are probing a possible link between a Pakistani held in Salzburg in connection with last November’s terror assaults in Paris and the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. “Leads pointing to this are being looked into,” prosecutors in Salzburg said, adding however that the identity of the Pakistani suspect, who has been in custody since December in the western Austrian city, has not been confirmed. “Wide-ranging investigations on this question, among others, are ongoing, although the public prosecutors’ office has been waiting for information on this from Pakistan since December 2015,” they said in a statement.
A source in Paris and the Sunday Times said that the man is thought to be a bomb maker for Pakistani extremist organisations Lashkar-e- Taiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. India holds Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai assault that killed 166 people. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is blamed for a string of high-profile attacks in recent years.
The 34-year-old was arrested in Austria in December along with an Algerian. French investigators suspect that the Islamic State (IS) group, which claimed responsibility for the Paris bombings as well as attacks in Brussels on March 22, sent both men to Europe to carry out attacks. Austrian authorities said in February that they are believed to have been in the same boat bringing around 200 migrants to Greece as two men involved in the Paris atrocities.
While those involved in the attacks were able to travel onwards, the pair were held up by Greek authorities for 25 days because they were carrying fake Syrian passports. They then arrived in Salzburg at the end of November — after the Paris killings — and Austrian police arrested them at a centre for migrants on December 10. A senior security offi cial in Pakistan told AFP he had no information. “We are in completely in the dark about such a person… who he is, his identity and his affiliations,” the official said. Earlier, 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 offi ce 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.