Bombers’ links to Paris shootings raise intel questions

Two suspected terrorist suicide bombers at Brussels airport, captured on closed-circuit television on Tuesday, have been named by Belgian state broadcaster RTBF as Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui.

The Belgian brothers were wellknown to police as long-standing criminals in the capital and more recently it emerged they had clear links to November’s Paris attacks.

A third man captured on CCTV footage at Zaventem airport, believed to be on the run, is thought to be 24-year-old Najim Laachraoui, Belgian newspaper DH reported. Laachraoui is also suspected of having links to the Paris attacks. There has been no official statement confirming or denying the reports.

At least 11 people were killed and 92 wounded in two blasts at the airport. A third bomb that went off at the metro station on Rue de la Loi, close to the European Union headquarters, killed 20 and injured 130.

A massive manhunt was launched for the third airport suspect, who is believed to have escaped after the explosives he was carrying did not detonate. In the CCTV footage he was dressed in a white jacket and hat. His two companions were dressed in black and were wearing black gloves on their left hands, thought to have concealed detonators.

If the airport bombers prove to be part of the same cell as the Paris attackers, serious questions will be raised about potential police and intelligence failings.

The el-Bakraoui brothers are from Brussels and have a long history of involvement in organised crime in Belgium. One had rented the flat in Forest (Vorst), southwest Brussels, which was raided by police last Tuesday, a week before the Brussels attacks, and where Salah Abdeslam, the prime Paris suspect, had been present.

In that Forest raid, heavy weapons and an Islamic State flag were found and one member of the Paris attacks cell, Mohamed Belkaïd, an Algerian, was shot by a police sniper.

One of the el-Bakraoui brothers is also known to have rented one of the hideouts of the Paris jihadi team in Charleroi in Belgium, where two of the attackers met before heading to Paris in November to carry out the attacks that killed 130 people: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader, and Bilal Hadfi, one of the Stade de France suicide bombers.

One of the el-Bakraoui brothers is also believed to have provided ammunition and weapons for the Paris attacks in which gunmen opened fire on bars and at a rock concert at the Bataclan, RTBF reported.

Laachraoui, whose nationality has not been given, was identified this week as a key suspect previously known by his alias, Soufiane Kayal. He is reported to have travelled to Syria in 2013 and was travelling with Abdeslam under his alias in September 2015 when their Mercedes-Benz was stopped at the Hungarian border with Austria.

Laachraoui’s DNA had been found at an apartment used by the attackers in Auvelais, near the central Belgian city of Namur, which he had rented under a false name. Traces were also found at another suspected hideout in Schaerbeek, a district of Brussels.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, saying through news agency Amaq that its fighters carried out “a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices”. The extremists had also opened fire at the airport and suicide belts were detonated in both attacks, it said.

According to local reports, a taxi driver has come forward after recognising CCTV images of the three airport suspects as men he picked up from an apartment block and dropped off at the airport.

The report said this led police to raid an apartment block in Schaerbeek, where they discovered an explosive device filled with nails, as well as an Islamic State flag and chemicals for making bombs.

The driver remembered the men had too much luggage to fit into his vehicle and were forced to leave some behind, Belgian news outlet HLN reported. He was also not allowed to help them to unload their luggage when they arrived at the airport.

Belgium raised its terror alert to its highest level in the aftermath of the attacks. The airport remained closed on Wednesday and the metro ran a reduced service, but schools were expected to open as normal following Tuesday’s city lockdown. – ©?Guardian News & Media Limited

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