The terrorists who carried out the March 22 attacks on the Brussels airport and metro had initially planned an attack on France instead, the Belgian federal prosecutor announced Sunday.

A cell of terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State had largely conceived and executed the November 13 attacks on Paris from the Belgian capital, where many of them were reared. According to the prosecutor's office, members of this cell were apparently "surprised by the speed of the progress in the ongoing investigation" and decided to attack locally instead.

US tightens air security after Brussels bombs
Brussels 'man in the hat' found

Despite the "speed" of that investigation, however, the terrorists - some of whom were known to the Belgian government - were able to kill 32 people and injure hundreds more in an impromptu attack four months after an attack that killed 130 in Paris.


The Brussels attack came four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a principal suspect in the logistics behind the Paris assault. Sunday's revelations confirm what many suspected: The arrests leading up to the Brussels attacks prompted a quick and desperate terrorist retaliation.

Exact details of the abandoned French attack remain unclear, and prosecutors declined to give further information.

Sunday's announcement came two days after Belgian authorities arrested Mohamed Abrini and three other suspects, all of whom were charged with the participating in "terrorist murder" and the "activities of a terrorist group."

A metro train damaged by an explosion on the Brussels Metro. Photo / Twitter
A metro train damaged by an explosion on the Brussels Metro. Photo / Twitter

Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin, is a link between both the Paris and Brussels attacks, one of many that investigators have uncovered in recent weeks.

Surveillance footage has identified him as the driver of a rented vehicle that transported terrorists back and forth across the French-Belgian border in the days before the Paris attacks. On Saturday, he admitted to police that he was the "man in the hat" at Brussels' Zaventem airport, walking beside two accomplices who detonated suicide bombs March 22 inside the terminal.

Further footage from the morning of the attack shows Abrini walking out of the airport toward the city, where he remained at large until Friday.

His testimony could provide further insight into the network that planned attacks in Paris and Brussels. The extent to which that network remains active is unknown.