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Dutch warned Belgium about Brussels bombers days before attacks

Interpol, AFP | Combination of handout pictures obtained via Interpol on March 23, 2016 shows Khalid (L) and Ibrahim (R) El Bakraoui, the two Belgian brothers identified as the suicide bombers who struck Brussels on March 22, 2016

The Netherlands notified Belgium about the criminal backgrounds and suspected terrorist links of suicide bombers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui just five days before the Brussels attacks, the Dutch justice minister said Tuesday.

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Answering questions in the Dutch parliament, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur said Dutch police had received an FBI report on March 16 "in which there was notification of Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid's criminal backgrounds and Khalid's terrorist background".

The next day "the issue came up during bilateral contact between the Dutch and Belgian police", said Van der Steur. "The radical background of both the brothers was discussed."

He also confirmed US media reports that Ibrahim was on a US terror list, saying he "was placed on an American surveillance list on September 25, 2015, a list made by the FBI terrorist screening centre".

Ibrahim El Bakraoui was one of two bombers who blew themselves up at Brussels airport on March 22. His brother Khalid blew himself up at Maalbeek metro station.

Belgium's federal police service, however, denied that it had received any information from the FBI about the Bakraoui brothers.

There was "no mention of the message that the FBI sent to the Dutch police" in the meeting with Dutch authorities, it said. Instead they discussed a police raid in Brussels on March 15, in which an Algerian militant with links to Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was captured. Khalid El Bakraoui is believed to have rented the flat where the raid took place using a false name.

The Dutch minister's revelations come as Belgian authorities continued Tuesday to hunt for a bomb suspect who remains on the run, a week after the deadly blasts in the Belgian capital that killed 32.

Under pressure at home and abroad over an apparent series of missed clues about criminals linked to jihadist networks, the Belgian government has admitted mistakes were made.

In one glaring example, Turkey accused Belgium last week of ignoring its warnings that Ibrahim El Bakraoui was an Islamist militant. Turkey deported him as a "terrorist" suspect last year after arresting him near the Syrian border.

The Dutch justice minister last week confirmed that Turkey had sent Bakraoui back to the Netherlands in July, but stressed that he had not been known to Dutch law enforcement or been on any watch lists.

It was not known how long Bakraoui stayed in the Netherlands before returning to Belgium, van der Steur said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
 

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