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Europe

Three Brussels bombers identified, all have links to Paris attacks

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-03-24

All three suspects identified in connection with the Brussels bombings, which killed 31 and injured hundreds, have links to the Paris attackers, underscoring the challenge Europe faces in tracking terror suspects across borders.

Three suicide bombers who struck Brussels airport and a metro train in attacks claimed by the Islamic State group were identified on Wednesday. The search continues for a third man whose suitcase bomb failed to detonate at the airport and another suspect seen on CCTV footage with the metro bomber.

Prosecutors said brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui had carried out attacks at Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station, respectively. Bomb-making expert and Paris attacks fugitive Najim Laachraoui was also identified by police sources as the second airport bomber.

Authorities stepped up the manhunt for the third airport attacker, seen wearing a hat and white jacket on CCTV footage from Zaventem departure hall, whose explosive-packed suitcase failed to go off.

Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw revealed that Ibrahim had left a desperate "will" on a computer that he dumped in a trash can, in which he said he felt "hunted" and added "I don't know what to do."

In an apparent reference to Salah Abdeslam, the key suspect in the Paris massacre arrested in Brussels on Friday, Ibrahim added: "I don't want to end up in a cell next to him."

Belgian broadcaster RTBF said Wednesday that it was Khalid El Bakraoui who had rented the apartment at 60 rue du Dries in the Brussels district of Forest, using a false name. It was at that apartment that Abdeslam's fingerprints were later found, leading police to his hideout and his subsequent capture last week.

Laachraoui, 24, was suspected of being one of the explosive experts and co-ordinators of the Paris attacks after his DNA was found on explosive belts used in both the attack on the Bataclan concert hall and the Stade de France.

Under the alias of Soufiane Kayal he rented a home in the town of Auvelais, in southern Belgium, which was used by the jihadists to prepare the November attacks. Investigators also believe he was in phone contact with the terrorists on the night of the attacks, November 13.

This was also the name he gave when he was stopped at the Austria-Hungary border with Abdeslam – the sole surviving Paris attacker – and Mohamed Belkaïd, another suspected co-ordinator of the Paris attacks, in September 2015.

© Najim Laachraoui (left) and Ibrahim El Bakraoui (centre) were identified as the two bombers at Brussels airport. The third suspect has been identified as Mohamed Abrini and has been arrested. (Belgian Federal police, AFP)

Belgian security under fire

The attacks have raised troubling new questions about Belgium's ability to handle the jihadist threat, already under scrutiny after it emerged that the Paris attacks were largely planned in Belgium.

Belgian authorities had already been hunting the Bakraoui brothers, both Belgian nationals with long criminal records, over their links to Abdeslam.

They issued a wanted notice for Laachraoui on Monday, the day before the attacks, with officials saying he had travelled to Hungary with Abdeslam last year and that his DNA was found on explosives linked to the Paris rampage.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey had arrested one of the Brussels attackers last year and deported him to the Netherlands. A senior Turkish official later confirmed that it was Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

"Despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, the Belgian authorities could not identify a link to terrorism," Erdogan said.

Belgium's Justice Minister Koen Geens denied, however, that the 30-year-old Belgian citizen had been flagged as a possible terrorist.

"At that time, he was not known here for terrorism," Geens told VRT television. "He was a common law criminal out on parole."

In a raid on Tuesday night investigators found a bomb factory in an apartment near where Ibrahim's computer was left in the Brussels district of Schaarbeek, an area that has links to Abdeslam.

They found 15 kilos (33 pounds) of TATP high explosive, chemicals and detonators, Van Leeuw said. Prosecutors said Tuesday that an unexploded bomb, an IS group flag and bomb-making materials had been found.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the attacks, the worst in the country's history, had killed or wounded people of around 40 nationalities.

Brussels airport announced it would stay shut until at least Saturday while investigators continued to comb through the wreckage.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2016-03-24

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