Brussels, Paris attacks probe charges suspect's brother

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Brussels (AFP)

The brother of the suspected plotter of the deadly Paris and Brussels attacks has been formally charged as the leader of a terrorist group, Belgium's federal prosecutor said on Friday.

Yassine Atar, 30, was formally charged "on account of terrorist assassinations and of participation as a leader in the activities of a terrorist group," a statement from the Belgian prosecutor's office said.

Yassine is the brother of Oussama Atar, 32, who remains at large and is believed to be one of the commanders of the attacks both in Brussels and in Paris, that were claimed by Islamic State.

Belgium has been on high alert since March 22 last year when suicide bombers attacked Zaventem airport and the Maalbeek metro station, killing 32 people and leaving more than 320 wounded.

The attacks were led by an Islamic State cell that was also responsible for the carnage in Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people.

Yassine was arrested just days after the 2016 Brussels attacks, found in possession of key to a hideout used by the jihadists that carried out the attacks in both European cities, Belgian broadcaster RTL has reported.

After being arrested in Iraq in 2004 following the US-led invasion of the country, Oussama Atar spent time in various jails including the notorious Abu Ghraib prison used by American forces.

Released in 2012, he returned to Belgium where intelligence and police forces have faced fierce criticism about the development of jihadist networks in Brussels.

In a letter to his mother, the elder Oussama Atar, who is believed to be based in Syria, denied investigators' claims that he was the "mastermind" of the Brussels and Paris attacks.

The Atars are cousin of the El Bakraoui brothers who blew themselves up in the Brussels airport and metro attacks.