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Foiled terror attack plotter in Paris led police to more suspects in Brussels, officials say

Two of the arrests resulted from the capture of a suspect in Paris Thursday night, who police said was already in the "advanced stages" of planning a future terror attack.
By Amy R. Connolly and Doug G. Ware   |   Updated March 25, 2016 at 6:13 PM
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BRUSSELS, March 25 (UPI) -- Belgian authorities on Friday arrested three additional suspects they say are linked to the deadly bombings in Brussels this week, following police operations in the capital city.

One of the police operations occurred in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek, officials said, which is where a taxi driver picked up three of the suspected bombers before the blasts Tuesday.

The raids began Thursday night.

An unnamed suspect was arrested at a subway station in Schaerbeek, and a backpack he was carrying -- believed to possibly contain explosives -- was detonated by bomb technicians.

Two other suspects were also arrested in Brussels Friday, one in the Forest district and one in Saint-Gilles, a Belgian prosecutor said. At least two of the raids resulted from intelligence gathered from the arrest of suspect Reda Kriket in Paris Thursday night, officials stated.

Officials said Kriket was involved in the planning of another terror attack that was already in the "advanced stages." Investigators said they found "an arsenal" of weapons in Kriket's home, including triacetone triperoxide explosives, which officials believe was used in the Brussels attacks.

It was reported that two of those arrested early Friday were wounded in the process.

At least 11 people have so far been arrested in Belgium, France and Germany since the Tuesday bombings at Brussels' airport and a nearby subway station.

Belgian authorities previously announced Friday that one of the two suicide bombers at the airport, Najim Laachraoui, was also a bomb-maker involved in the attacks in Paris that killed 130 last fall.

Laachraoui's DNA was found on a suicide belt used at the Bataclan music venue in Paris on Nov. 13, prosecutors said. The 24-year-old's DNA was also found at several safe houses the terrorist cell used in Belgium. Investigators said Laachraoui was an accomplice of Salah Abdeslam, 26, a suspect in the Paris attacks who was captured last week.

A woman lights a candle during a tribute to the victims of the Brussels terror attacks at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday. On Tuesday, bomb blasts claimed by the Islamic State hit Brussels' airport and the nearby Maelbeek subway station, killing dozens. Photo by Albert Masias/UPI

Investigators had previously suspected Laachraoui's involvement in the Brussels bombing, but publicly confirmed his association Friday.

Surveillance footage released shortly after the airport bombing showed Laachraoui, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and a third man pushing a luggage cart through the airport. El-Bakraoui died in the bombing, and the third suspect, whose bomb did not detonate, has not yet been identified.

El-Bakraoui's brother, Khalid, has been identified as suicide bomber in the blast at the Maelbeek train station. A possible fifth suspect may have been involved in the train blast.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in a news conference Friday with Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel, confirmed that a small number of Americans died in the Brussels attacks, but didn't say how many. Unnamed officials said two U.S. citizens died but have not identified them.

At least four Americans in Brussels have not been seen since the attack, including citizens Justin and Stephanie Shults, who have been living in Belgium since 2014.

Kerry arrived in Brussels on Friday to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Michel and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, as well as Belgium's King Philippe. They are expected to discuss counterterrorism efforts.

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