Belgium police on Monday released a man who was accused of being the third Brussels airport attacker, raising doubts over the handling of investigations one week after terrorists killed at least 35 people in the symbolic heart of the European Union.
A Belgian magistrate ruled that the man identified as Faycal C., who was arrested during the police raids that followed the March 22 attacks, could be released, citing a lack of evidence tying him to the suicide bombings.
His release was greeted with dismay by Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur, who accused Faycal C. of being a trouble-maker who had stirred up resentment between refugees and NGOs and Belgian public services. Mayeur also said Faycal C. was possibly a jihadist recruiter.
“There is a line between being a radical agitator and a radical recruiter, and prosecutors probably didn’t want to cross that line,” he told French radio on Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors charged Faycal C. on Saturday with "terrorist murder" and were investigating whether he was the so-called “man in the hat” caught on camera with two other men who blew themselves up at the Brussels Zaventem airport.
The mysterious suspect, spotted in a light jacket and dark beach hat, fled the scene after his bomb did not go off, prosecutors have said.
A few hours before Faycal C. was released Monday, police released new CCTV footage of the man in the hat, signalling that the manhunt was still underway.
"Police are seeking to identify this man," the Belgian federal police's website said in relation to the 32-second video. "If you recognize this individual or you have information concerning this attack, please contact investigators.”
Mourners meanwhile held an emotional Easter Monday prayer service at Brussels' medieval cathedral in memory of the victims of Belgium's worst-ever terror attack.
Grieving airport personnel and members of the emergency services carried trays full of candles at the Cathedral of Saints-Michel-et-Gudule, and were applauded by the congregation.
Representatives of the city’s Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Anglican and Evangelical communities were invited to attend the solemn ceremony by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Malines-Brussels Jozef de Kesel.
"No violence in the name of God can be tolerated," Kesel told the interfaith assembly. "Peace is more than just the absence of violence. There cannot be a real life together without a profound and sincere respect for others."
'Life is almost back to normal'
Kamar Takkal, representing the Muslim community, said the service in "beautiful Brussels" was "symbolic".
"To all the victims, to all those who suffer around the world, dear God offer them the patience to overcome sorrow and painful moments," she said.
Several people injured in the attacks were also present.
"I'm mainly here for the others," said airport employee Geoffroy LeMaitre. "I am saved so I wanted to be here for the others."
Missing the terror links
Belgian officials said Monday that the death toll had climbed to 35 after four people died in the hospital.
The dead include four Americans as well as people from countries from China to Britain and Sweden to Peru, testament to the cosmopolitan nature of a city that is home to both the European Union and NATO.
Ninety-six injured people remain in hospitals.
Brussels is still trying to get back on its feet, with the airport saying it would carry out a test-run Tuesday to see if repair work in the wrecked departure hall was satisfactory, but it could not give a firm date for resuming services.
Belgian authorities are continuing to face criticism over whether they could have prevented the tragedy, as the links to the Paris attacks become clearer by the day.
Bomb-maker Laachraoui's DNA was found on some of the explosives used in Paris.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui's brother Khalid, who blew himself up on a Brussels metro train shortly after the airport blasts, is meanwhile believed to have rented a property linked to Paris prime suspect Salah Abdeslam.
Abdeslam was arrested in Brussels on March 18 just metres from his family home after four months on the run.
And Turkey accused Belgium last week of ignoring a clear and present danger after revealing it had deported Ibrahim El Bakraoui as a "terrorist fighter" last year after arresting him near the Syrian border.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2016-03-29