President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said Turkish authorities had warned Belgium last year that suspected Brussels attacker Ibrahim El-Bakraoui was an Islamic militant, in a potentially embarrassing indictment of European security agencies.
Erdogan, speaking at a press conference in Ankara, said that Turkish authorities detained one of the suspected Brussels attackers in June and later deported him to the Netherlands. The Turkish president initially avoided naming the attacker, but a Turkish official confirmed it was El-Bakraoui soon after.
Ibrahim El-Bakraoui, 29, was identified by Belgian federal prosecutors on Wednesday as one of two suicide bombers who killed 11 people and injured scores at Brussels Zaventem airport. His brother Khalid, 27, set off his suicide belt on a Brussels metro around one hour later, claiming the lives of an additional 20 people.
"One of the Brussels attackers was detained in Gaziantep (in southern Turkey close to the Syrian border) and then deported," Erdogan said. He added that Belgian authorities had failed to confirm the suspect's links to terrorism "despite our warnings" following his deportation.
He said that Belgian consular authorities were formally notified of his deportation on July 14, 2015. Erdogan said he was then released by the Belgian authorities.
"Despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, the Belgian authorities could not identify a link to terrorism," he told reporters alongside visiting Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
An official in Turkey’s presidential office later clarified Erdogan’s statement, saying El-Bakraoui was deported to the Netherlands in July, not Belgium.
He repeated the president’s claim that Turkey had warned both Belgium and the Netherlands that he was a "foreign terrorist fighter”.
The official said Dutch authorities later allowed El-Bakraoui to go free because Belgian authorities could not establish any ties to terrorism. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the issue.
Erdogan has come under fire from the West, including Belgium, for calling for the definition of terrorism to be expanded to include journalists, activists and others who "exploit their positions, pens and titles and put them at terrorists' disposal".
On Thursday he defended that position. "I believe that we can work this out (the fight against terror) if world leaders form an alliance against terror. For that, we need to redefine global terror and terrorists," Erdogan added.
Turkey has previously complained that Western countries did not heed warnings of the dangers posed by jihadists it had expelled back to Europe after arresting them on the Syrian border.
European officials have in turn urged Turkey to improve intelligence sharing, but praised an increase in cooperation in recent months.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2016-03-23