BRUSSELS (AP) – Belgian authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested a man who served jail time on terrorism charges over the theft of a computer hard drive containing autopsy reports about the victims of the suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016.
Brussels prosecutor’s office spokesman Denis Goeman said the man, identified only by the initials I. K. and born in 1991, is suspected of stealing the hard drive and other items from a forensic doctor’s office at the city’s main justice offices last week.
Belgian media, quoting unnamed justice sources, said the suspect is Illiass Khayari and that he was sentenced to five years in prison on terror charges in 2016 but only served about half his term. He claimed to have beheaded a man in Syria, where he said he was a foreign fighter, but he was not prosecuted over that.
Goeman said the hard drive was a backup of an office computer so it contained several files relating to different cases. He said there was no label on the drive that might have identified it as containing material related to the March 22, 2016 attacks on the Brussels metro and airport that killed 32 people. No files or evidence was lost and no cases have been compromised by the Jan. 3 theft.
“It is therefore premature to say that this is a theft concerning precise documents, on the contrary,” Goeman said. The suspect has denied the charges.
Belgian media reported that the suspect was picked up when authorities traced a mobile phone that he had allegedly stolen. Prosecutors would not confirm this and only identified the hard drive and a voice recorder as one of several items stolen.
The prosecutor’s office said it had tried to notify families of the 32 victims about the theft before it was reported in the media.