Minister says Belgium was aware Brussels bomber was deported by Turkey

Minister says Belgium was aware Brussels bomber was deported by Turkey

Minister says Belgium was aware Brussels bomber was deported by Turkey

AFP photo

A Belgian minister has said they were aware one of the Brussels bombers was deported from Turkey to the Netherlands last year, one day after Turkey’s president made the news of the attacker’s deportation public. 

Belgian Justice Minister Koen 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.

“At that time, he was not known here for terrorism,” Geens told Belgium’s VRT television, according to AFP. “He was a common law criminal out on parole.”  

This came as a response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on March 23, when he said – without identifying the attacker’s name – one of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) bombers in Brussels had been detained in Turkey and deported. 

“One of the perpetrators of the Brussels attack is a person whom we detained in June 2015 in [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep and deported,” Erdoğan said at a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart in Ankara on March 23.

“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,” Erdoğan said.

Despite this information, the Belgians could not determine any ties with terrorism, he added.

Geens said Belgian federal prosecutors told him the suspect was stopped at the Turkey-Syria border and sent to the Netherlands.

Erdoğan also referred to the Netherlands, saying Turkey deported the attacker there in June 2015 and informed the Netherlands via a note.

In separate attacks at the airport and a central metro station in Brussels on March 22, three suicide bombing attacks killed at least 31 people and wounded as many as 270 others. 

Turkish Foreign Ministry sources talking to the state-run Anadolu Agency said the mentioned attacker was 30-year-old Ibrahim El Bakraoui, who, according to the Belgian prosecutor looking into the Brussels’ attacks, was one of the two who blew himself up at the Zevantem Airport on March 22. 

A Dutch government official said Erdogan’s comments were “being carefully looked into,” but that they could not yet say if El Bakraoui had been in the Netherlands.

After the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris attacks, which was also claimed by ISIL and killed 130 people, Turkey said it alerted France on two occasions that one of the assailants in the attacks was a potential threat after he traveled to the country in 2013, likely on his way to Syria. But officials said they never received a response from Paris.

Turkish European Union Minister Volkan Bozkır said March 23 that a total of 3,128 suspected foreign jihadists had been expelled from the country since 2011.

In the coordinated bombings in Brussels, Bakraoui’s brother Khalid, 27, also blew himself up, in an attack at the Maalbeek metro station in the heart of the European district in Brussels.