The UN warned last month the abatement of operations by the jihadist group “may not last long” and Western states could face a rash of attacks in the coming months. Salah Abdeslam was formally charged with “participating in the activities of a terrorist group,” the federal prosecutor’s office said, confirming recent media reports. The prosecutor’s office did not elaborate on his alleged role in the attacks at Brussels airport and a central metro station on March 22, 2016, which claimed 32 lives and left more than 300 injured. The terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks which took place within an hour of each other.
Investigators say the attacks were ordered by ISIS militants in Syria and organised by a team of French and Belgian jihadists – the same cell behind the attacks in the French capital on November 13, 2015, that killed 130 people and wounded scores more.
Twelve more people have been formally charged in connection with the Brussels suicide attacks.
The suspects are due to stand trial next year in the former Nato headquarters in the Belgian capital, with judicial sources saying it could begin in the autumn of 2020 and last up to eight months.
Abdeslam, who has so far refused to collaborate with both French and Belgian investigators, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in April over a deadly shootout with police in Brussels that led to his arrest just days before the March 22 bombings.
The jihadist, a Belgian-born French national from Brussels’ Molenbeek neighbourhood, is currently being held in solitary confinement in France’s high-security Fleury-Mérogis prison ahead of a separate trial over the Paris attacks.
He is believed to have dropped off three suicide bombers at Paris’ Stade de France stadium the evening of the November attacks, before abandoning his own explosive belt in a bin.
It remains unclear why he failed to detonate his suicide belt.
Despite being successfully driven out of their strongholds in Iraq and Syria by US-backed forces, ISIS militants remain a serious threat from sleeper cells around the world and are plotting a comeback, the United Nations has warned.
UN analysts say that despite a recent “pause” in its terrorist activities, the group still has access to between $50 and $300 million and is using propaganda to maintain a “virtual caliphate” and mobilise supporters.
“When it has the time and space to reinvest in an external operations capability, Isil (ISIS) will direct and facilitate international attacks in addition to the Isil-inspired attacks that continue to occur in many locations around the world.
“The current abatement of such attacks, therefore, may not last long, possibly not even until the end of 2019,” the June report said, adding that the threat to Europe “remains high”.
A separate, equally chilling report published by the Pentagon last week said that ISIS is “resurging” in Syria, less than five months after US President Donald Trump boasted that the group had been wiped out thanks to US-led efforts.
“Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ ISIS has solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and is resurging in Syria,” the report said.
Mr Trump, whose controversial decision to pull US troops out of Syria has angered his allies, said last month ISIS had been “100 percent” defeated.
ISIS emerged as a violent al Qaeda faction in Iraq but took advantage of the civil war in Syria to seize large swathes of land there and split from the global jihadi group.
It formally declared the creation of an Islamic “caliphate” in June 2014, after it grabbed the Iraqi city of Mosul, a strategic stronghold.