Failure to stop ISIL attack rocks Belgium

Failure to stop ISIL attack rocks Belgium

Failure to stop ISIL attack rocks Belgium

AFP photo

Revelations from Turkey that it had informed Belgium that at least one of the bombers in the March 22 Brussels attack was a jihadist fighter have rocked the Western European country after authorities failed to prevent the deadly assault.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens offered their resignations over the Brussels attacks, but they were rejected by Prime Minister Charles Michel, Belgian media reported March 24.

Belgian authorities are facing embarrassment after Turkey said on March 23 that last year Ankara deported back to Europe Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers who carried out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks on March 22, and warned Belgium he was a militant.

“We informed the Brussels embassy of the deportation process of the attacker with a note on July 14, 2015. However, the Belgians released the attacker despite his deportation,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said March 23, adding that one of the perpetrators of the Brussels attack had been detained by Turkish authorities in June 2015 in the southeastern province of Gaziantep and deported.

Hours after Erdoğan’s remarks, Geens said he was aware one of the Brussels attackers had been sent to the Netherlands from Turkey, but denied that he had been flagged as a possible terrorist.

The attacks at Brussels’ Zaventem Airport and Maalbeek Metro Station in Brussels on March 22 killed at least 31 people and wounded 270 others. 

Ibrahim El Bakraoui is one of two brothers, along with Khalid El Bakraoui, named by Belgium as responsible for the attacks in Brussels. Both brothers are believed to have died in the attacks.

Meanwhile, two Turkish officials speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that one of the attackers in the suicide bombings was deported from Turkey not only once but twice last year and that authorities warned their European counterparts that they suspected him of being a militant fighter. 

The first official said Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s initial deportation in July 2015 had been based on police suspicions that he was a militant fighter, but no crime was committed in Turkey, describing his expulsion as an “administrative deportation.” 

“The police were looking at him and came to the conclusion that he may be a foreign fighter. He was picked up in [the southeastern city of] Gaziantep,” said the official, declining to be named because of the sensitivities of the case. 

The second Turkish government official told Reuters that El Bakraoui had entered Turkey for a second time on Aug. 11, 2015, through the Antalya airport on the Mediterranean coast and was again deported two weeks later, on Aug. 25, 2015. 

The official did not specify where he was deported to on the second occasion.

Belgian prosecutors have said at least four people were involved in the attacks, including the El Bakraoui brothers. European security officials identified another suicide bomber as Najim Laachraoui, a suspected bombmaker for the Paris attacks.

Prosecutors have said another suspected participant in the airport attack is at large, a man in a hat seen in surveillance images who has not been publicly identified. 

Belgian state broadcaster RTBF and France’s Le Monde and BFM television reported March 24 that a fifth attacker may also be at large: a man filmed by surveillance cameras in the Brussels metro on March 22 carrying a large bag alongside Khalid El Bakraoui. RTBF said it is not clear whether that man was killed in the attack.

The chief suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was summoned to court in Brussels in the morning of March 24 after his arrest last week in the Belgian capital. His lawyer, who had initially vowed to fight extradition, said Abdeslam now wants to be sent to France as soon as possible.