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Two suspects identified, manhunt under way for third man in Brussels attacks

© Belgian Federal Police, AFP | A screengrab of airport CCTV footage shows three Brussels attacks suspects.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-03-23

Belgian authorities on Wednesday identified two suspects in the Brussels airport attack and said police are “actively searching” for a third. At least one of those identified is believed to have links to Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Two of the suicide bombers were identified as Khalid and Brahim El-Bakraoui, the Belgian state prosecutor told reporters on Wednesday. Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said Brahim El-Bakraoui was one of the airport attackers while his brother Khalid targeted the metro. The brothers have criminal records but have not been linked to terrorism until now.

Investigators released a CCTV image of three men at the airport pushing trolleys hours after Tuesday’s attacks. Two of the men are believed to have detonated explosives in their luggage. Belgian officials believe the third man’s explosives did not go off and he is on the run.

The third man was seen in CCTV footage wearing a light overcoat and a hat. Belgian officials say he may have escaped after his explosive device failed to detonate.

“There were three people who came with suitcases, two of them blew themselves up. The third was pushing a cart with a suitcase. We searched for it. The Belgian army looked for it for a long time, they found the suitcase and blew it up,” said Francis Vermeiren, mayor of Brussels’ Zaventem district, on Tuesday night.

Police manhunt continues for third suspect

Belgian media reported Wednesday that authorities had made an arrest in connection with the attacks, but doubts remained over the identity of the detained man.

Reporting from Brussels, FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent said police raids were launched Tuesday evening and continued into the night.

“Here on the streets of Brussels, there are police teams on the streets and we’ve seen lorry-loads of soldiers as well,” she said.

“One raid was conducted in the northern district of Schaerbeek, where authorities found a nail bomb, an Islamic State group flag and also, they believe, some elements of chemical weapons.”

The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for the bombings at the Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station that killed at least 31 people, saying "soldiers of the caliphate" had carried out the attacks against "the crusader state" of Belgium. The group has warned of more attacks.

Link to Paris suspects

The fact that extremists were able to hit high-profile targets in Brussels, capital of the European Union, just months after IS group militants killed 130 people in Paris will raise fresh questions about the continent's ability to prevent terrorism.

It also underscores doubts about how Belgium has allowed extremism to develop unchecked, coming days after the arrest in Brussels of key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam following four months on the run.

Abdeslam was captured Friday in Brussels’ Molenbeek district, after three days of raids across Brussels.

Belgian police encountered heavy gunfire during a March 15 raid on an apartment in the Forest district of the Belgian capital. One man was killed and two others are thought to have escaped during the operation, which targeted an apartment at 60 rue du Dries. Abdeslam's fingerprints were later found at the apartment.

Belgian broadcaster RTBF said Wednesday that it was Khalid El-Bakraoui who had rented the apartment at 60 rue du Dries, using a false name.

World leaders condemn attacks

Brussels residents held a candlelight vigil Tuesday night in Place de la Bourse square, where they sang songs and waved the Belgian flag, while on social media thousands of people shared images of beloved Belgian cartoon character Tintin in tears.

"This is a day of tragedy, a black day," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said, describing the bombings as the "deadliest attacks we have ever seen in Belgium".

But as Belgium began three days of national mourning on Wednesday, he insisted the country would not be cowed by the "blind, violent and cowardly" attacks.

"People were just going to work, to school and they have been cut down by the most extreme barbarity," Michel said. "We will continue to protect liberty, our way of life."

Leaders across Europe reacted with outrage, with the EU vowing to combat terrorism "with all means necessary" on a continent that has been on high alert for months.

"The whole of Europe has been hit," said French President François Hollande, whose country is still reeling from November's attacks.

Landmarks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate were lit up in the black, yellow and red of Belgium's national flag in solidarity.

US President Barack Obama vowed to stand with Belgium in the face of the "outrageous" attacks and ordered US flags flown at half mast, while the FBI and New York police said they would send investigators to help.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said those responsible for the "despicable" bombings should face justice, while Belgian King Philippe condemned the "cowardly and odious" attacks.

Travel woes as transport resumes

Hundreds of flights and trains were cancelled as Europe tightened security, while the US warned citizens about the "potential risks" of travelling in Europe and New York and Washington stepped up security.

There were chaotic scenes at Brussels airport after the bombers struck at around 8am (7am GMT), as plumes of dark smoke could be seen rising from openings torn through the roof of the building by the blasts.

"A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast," airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura told AFP, his hands bloodied.

"A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg."

About an hour after the airport blasts, a third explosion rocked Maelbeek metro station, in the heart of the city's EU quarter, just as commuters were making their way to work.

Paramedics tended to commuters with bloodied faces as the city's normally peaceful streets filled with the wailing of sirens.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-03-23


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