Brussels terror suspect Faycal lived a stone's throw from EU

David Courbet and Claire Rosemberg

Brussels (AFP) - Faycal Cheffou, the sole person charged so far in Belgium's terror attacks, lived in a four-storey townhouse on a quiet residential street a stone's throw from the EU's headquarters.

Listed as an 'art nouveau' wonder by turn-of-the-19th-century Belgian architect Franz Tilley, the house is just a few hundred yards away from the huge European Commission buildings.

On a list of tenants by the door a scrawled name says "Faycal Cheffou", but no one answers the bell.

Until police showed up on Thursday to search the Cheffou flat, "it's always been calm around here," says a baker whose shop is a couple of doors away.

"We'd never have imagined anything like this," she adds.

It's all quiet otherwise "chez Cheffou" on this Easter Sunday. The neighbours are either out, on holidays or avoiding the press.

A source close to the inquiry told AFP this weekend that Faycal Cheffou was the man charged with terrorist murder Saturday but named only as Faycal C. by the federal prosecutor.

The source refused to comment however on whether he was the same man captured on video footage Tuesday in the company of the two airport suicide bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui.

So the question in everyone's mind is whether Faycal is or isn't "the man in the hat", glasses and light-coloured coat seen wheeling a trolley with a large black bag like the other two, but whose device did not go off.

He is however the first and only person yet to face terrorist charges over the bloodiest attacks ever to strike the symbolic capital of Europe.

In the Brussels media world, Faycal Cheffou claimed to be a freelance journalist who took a special interest in refugees.

But he was accused last year by Brussels Mayor Yves Mayeur of trying to recruit jihadists among asylum-seekers and migrants living at a refugee centre set up by local charities and NGOs at Maximilien park near the northern rail station.

Mayeur considered him to be "dangerous" and repeatedly tried without success to have him legally expelled from the centre. Finally in September the mayor issued a ban to keep him out of the park.

A YouTube video from 2014 shows him presenting himself as a freelance reporter concerned with the plight of hungry Muslim asylum-seekers at the Steenokkerzeel migrant centre.

His head shaved, wearing a slight beard and glasses, he says the refugees are celebrating the holy Ramadan month of fasting but that the authorities are refusing to provide them with food after nightfall, which is the only time when they can eat.

"After 10:00 pm these people find themselves with nothing to eat, completely forgotten by the rest of the world," he says on the video. "This is a lack of respect for human rights."

"I am concerned by the shouts and the noise I can hear as they are crying for help."

A former colleague from 2008 at Fun radio in Brussels, told RTL television that he was "intelligent", "passionate" about his work and "a good listener" at the time.

But over time he gradually seemed to become a conspiracy theorist, said Vinz Kane, who "saw evil everywhere".

Faycal was arrested late Thursday close to the federal prosecutor's office with two others after their car was tailed by police, and "has been charged with taking part in a terrorist group, terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder."

Police found no explosives or weapons at his home.

The baker says she never met him but she thinks that the man in the middle of a picture the police showed her used to come regularly to the shop.

Two of her customers who lived in the same building as the suspect told her he was "very nice" and that no one had any idea of what was going on.