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3 Men Held In Brussels On Terror Charges


We're going to turn now to Belgium, where this morning prosecutors in Brussels say three people have been charged with participating in terror activities. The men had all been detained yesterday after a series of searches across Belgium. Of course, those searches in response to last Tuesday's bombings at the airport and a subway. Those blasts killed at least 38 people, including the attackers, and injured more than 300 others. That's according to the Belgian Health Ministry. We're going to bring in NPR's Russell Lewis. He is there in Belgium following the investigation. Russell, what can you tell us about these men?

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: Well, at this point not a lot. The federal prosecutors have identified the three but they didn't release their full names. They are Yassine A., Mohamed B. and Aboubaker O. They said they wouldn't give further information about them for now. But we do know that they and several others who were subsequently released were detained after 13 raids across Brussels and several other cities in Belgium yesterday. And they also wouldn't say if they were linked to last week's attacks or part of something else.

MARTIN: These raids and arrests come after the Belgian government has been getting all this criticism over how it's handled the investigations. What are officials saying about that?

LEWIS: Well, I mean, it's true, the Belgian government is, you know, working to contain the criticism. Yesterday, the interior minister conceded that essentially decades of neglect had hampered the government's response to violent extremism. You know, at the same time, in the last two years the Belgian government says that it has invested the equivalent of about $670 million into police and security services. Still, I mean, we should remember that the Paris attacks in November were largely hatched and planned here in Brussels. Many of the suspects from that incident which killed 130 live here.

MARTIN: And Belgian investigators are still defending - having to defend their actions following those attacks in Paris, right?

LEWIS: Yeah, absolutely. You know, there's certainly growing international pressure. These attackers were based here. And since those attacks, there's been almost a constant police and military presence at major sites across the capital. You'll remember that Brussels went into thus quasi shutdown after those attacks because of fears that one of the attackers - Salah Abdeslam - had returned to Brussels. And we know that it turns out that he did. He was captured here on March 18, just four days before the Brussels bombings. And investigators are having to answer questions about why they didn't question Abdeslam longer or apparently ask about any other pending terror plans.

MARTIN: And just real brief, the airport in Brussels is still closed. Any idea when it might reopen?

LEWIS: Well, they still haven't said. There's massive damage inside the departure hall. They are running tests of the infrastructure today. They're checking to see if they have the capacity to resume passenger service. There are apparently 800 people who will take place in these tests today. And there are all sorts of new arrangements being put in place for these new procedures that will require approval from local authorities.

MARTIN: NPR's Russell Lewis in Brussels. Thanks Russell.

LEWIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.
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