Mystery over suspect of Brussels attack remains

Mystery over suspect of Brussels attack remains

Mystery over suspect of Brussels attack remains

AP photo

The mystery over one of the assailants of the March 22 Brussels attack remains, as the Netherlands said that they were not properly informed of the bomber’s terror links, while Turkey and the United States claim that they had previously notified relevant authorities. 

Dutch officials confirmed March 24 that one of the Brussels airport suicide bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was expelled by Turkey and sent to the Netherlands last year, but stressed he had been unknown to Dutch law enforcement.

“The Turkish authorities requested Ibrahim El Bakraoui to leave the country and put him on a flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam on July 14, 2015,” Dutch Justice Minister Ard van der Steur said in a letter to the Dutch parliament.

“He was not under suspicion in the Netherlands,” Van der Steur stressed, adding Ankara had not provided any explanation for why Bakraoui was being sent to Holland.

On March 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkish authorities had informed the Belgian and Netherlands authorities in Ankara in a note on July 14, 2015, that one of the Brussels’ attackers was a foreign fighter caught in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep, but that Belgian authorities had released him after Turkey deported him.

Bakraoui blew himself up together with Najim Laachraoui at Brussels’ Zaventem airport, while his brother Khalid set off a suicide bomb at the Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels.  

Belgian authorities are still searching for a third assailant who left his bomb-filled bag at the airport before fleeing the scene, and are hunting a second metro suspect.

Meanwhile, two U.S. officials who spoke to television network NBC on condition of anonymity, said that the Bakraoui brothers were known to U.S. authorities and listed in American terrorism databases. 

The report cited two unnamed U.S. officials as saying that Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui were listed as a “potential terror threat” in U.S. databases but that they would not specify on “which of the many US terrorism databases the brothers were listed.”

The National Counterterrorism Center, which coordinates U.S. intelligence on extremist threats, did not respond to requests for comment from AFP.