BRUSSELS: Belgian prosecutors announced they have charged three men with terror offenses over the suicide attacks on the Brussels airport and subway, as organizers canceled a solidarity rally at the government’s request because police are too strapped to cope.
At a news conference in Brussels Saturday, officials confirmed that 24 of the 31 people killed in the attacks Tuesday had been identified, and a doctor who had served in Afghanistan said he and his colleagues have been shocked by the extreme burns suffered by some of the 270 people wounded.
Federal prosecutors said a man identified as Faycal C., who was arrested Thursday, has been charged with “involvement in a terrorist group, terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder.”
Belgian media say he is Faycal Cheffou, the man in the light vest and hat pictured on security video with two men who blew themselves up at the airport. Cheffou is described as a local activist known to police for trying to rally asylum-seekers and homeless people to radical Islam.
Prosecutors would not confirm the Belgian media reports. A police raid was conducted at his home but no arms or explosives were found, they said.
Two other suspects detained on Thursday and identified as Raba N. and Aboubakar A. were charged with “involvement in the activities of a terrorist group.” In addition, a man named as Abderamane A. who was taken into custody on Friday after he was shot by police at a Brussels tram stop is being held for at least 24 more hours.
In Italy on Sunday, police said they arrested an Algerian wanted by Belgium for facilitating travel of illegal migrants in connection with the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. Authorities believe both the Brussels attacks and the Paris bombings that killed 130 people were plotted from Belgium.
The suicide bombings during Tuesday’s peak morning travel time at the Brussels Airport and a city subway station killed 31 people, officials confirmed Saturday. That toll is likely to rise as some body parts have still not been identified, they said.
Brussels prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch told The Associated Press that 24 of the victims have now been identified and 11 of them were foreigners. One was a former Belgian ambassador to the United States, Andre Adam.
Of the 270 wounded, 93 are being treated at a Brussels military hospital. A doctor there said Saturday that 15 people are in a serious burns unit, five of them in intensive care.
Dr. Serge Jennes said he had treated similar injuries during his service in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, but said he and his colleagues were shocked to see such injuries on women and children.
“I’ve never seen this before in my 20 years at the center for burns,” Jennes said. “Injuries linked to the blowback from the blast, which can mutilate.”
He said almost all the wounded had burst eardrums and added that his colleagues are likely to need psychological counselling to help cope with what they had witnessed.
In a sign of the tensions in the Belgian capital and the way security services are stretched across the country, Belgium’s interior minister appealed to residents not to march Sunday in Brussels in solidarity with the victims.
“We understand fully the emotions,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon told reporters. “We understand that everyone wants to express these feelings.”
But, he said, “we invite the citizens not to have this demonstration.”
Organizers quickly granted his request, postponing the march.
Brussels airport officials, meanwhile, began to assess the damage caused by twin explosions at the Zaventem airport departure terminal.
Authorities have wrapped up their investigation of the crime scene at the airport, and engineers were let in to check the building’s structural safety and information technology systems — and to see whether any damage can be repaired quickly.
Brussels Airport, which handles 23.5 million passengers annually, said it would be Tuesday at the earliest before flights resume. About 600 flights a day are being cancelled or diverted.
The transport disruptions will do little to ease the worries of jittery Europeans, who are wondering how many violent extremists remain at large, and where and when they might strike again.
Heavily armed police swept into several Brussels neighborhoods on Friday in operations linked to the attacks. Signs of a large police operation remained visible Saturday at the tram station in the city’s Schaerbeek district where a man was shot in the leg by police on Friday.
The man, who was sitting with a young girl and holding a bag, was ordered by police “to put the bag far from him.” After he did so, police shot him twice.
Local residents have mixed feelings about the police intervention.
“The security services are doing their work,” said Timotheee Bunkyezi, a 54-year-old student who believes that for such a large-scale operation, the intelligence the Belgian police had must have been solid.
But Marie-Madeleine Yamotia, a 40-year-old nurse who lives opposite the bus stop, expressed concern for the young girl who had been with the suspect.
“It’s traumatizing for the little one,” she said. “We don’t know. Is he really a suspect? Here, we doubt it a little.”