Belgium: We sought metro bomber’s arrest last year for terror offenses
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Belgium: We sought metro bomber’s arrest last year for terror offenses

Amid widespread criticism of its security, Brussels confirms terrorists' link to Paris; PM Michel declines ministers' offer to resign

(From L) European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and King Philippe of Belgium react before observing a minute of silence on March 24, 2016 at the Federal Parliament in Brussels, two days after a triple bomb attack in the city killed 31 people. (AFP/Belga/YORICK JANSENS)
(From L) European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and King Philippe of Belgium react before observing a minute of silence on March 24, 2016 at the Federal Parliament in Brussels, two days after a triple bomb attack in the city killed 31 people. (AFP/Belga/YORICK JANSENS)

Belgian federal prosecutors said Thursday that an international arrest warrant for terrorism-related offenses was issued in December for the suicide bomber who blew himself up at a Brussels metro station two days ago.

Persecutors also said in a statement that Khalid El Bakraoui had rented a flat in the southern city of Charleroi, “which served as a base for the terrorist group implicated in the Paris attacks.”

Belgian officials have said at least four people were involved in Tuesday’s attacks on Brussels’s airport and subway, including brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, the suspected bombmaker for the Paris attacks.

Khalid blew himself at the Maalbeek metro station, close to the EU headquarters in the city, shortly after his brother and Laachraoui detonated their own suicide vests at Zaventem Airport at around 8 a.m.

A picture taken off CCTV showing suspects in the Brussels airport attack on March 22, 2016. (Screenshot from YouTube)
A picture taken off CCTV showing suspects in the Brussels airport attack on March 22, 2016. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Prosecutors have said another suspected participant in the airport attack is at large, a man in a black hat and pale coat seen in surveillance images but who has not been publicly identified. A major manhunt is underway for the suspect.

The blasts killed at least 32 people and injured more than 200, making it Belgium’s worst-ever terror attack.

The announcement from prosecutors came amid widespread criticism of Belgium’s approach to immigration and security, as well as reports that Brussels officials had specific information about the terror plot, and the attackers were known to police.

Special police forces stand guard outside the Council Chamber of Brussels on March 24, 2016 during investigations into the Paris and Brussels terror attacks. (AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)
Special police forces stand guard in the Belgian capital on March 24, 2016 during investigations into the Paris and Brussels terror attacks. (AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD)

On Wednesday, Turkey revealed that Ibrahim El Bakraoui was detained and deported back to Belgium last year.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Belgian authorities failed to confirm the suspect’s jihadist links and released him despite Ankara’s warnings that he was “a foreign fighter.”

Israel’s Channel 2 television reported Wednesday that Israeli officials had warned Belgian counterparts of the numerous security failings at Brussels airport weeks before the deadly bomb blasts ripped through the site.

Belgium ministers offer to resign

Meanwhile, Belgium’s interior and justice ministers, under fire for intelligence failures linked to the attacks, offered to resign Thursday due to “errors,” but were asked to remain in office.

Prime Minister Charles Michel, who turned down their offers to quit, pledged the government would “shed light” on the Brussels attacks.

“I confirm I tendered my resignation,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon was quoted as telling the Le Soir daily on Thursday. “(Justice Minister Koen) Geens too. They were refused.”

Belgium Interior Minister Jan Jambon arrives at the European Commission to take part in a ceremony in memory of the victims of Brussels' terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels. (AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND)
Belgium Interior Minister Jan Jambon arrives at the European Commission to take part in a ceremony in memory of the victims of Brussels’ terror attacks on March 23, 2016 in Brussels. (AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND)

“There were errors at Justice [Ministry] and with the [Belgian] liaison officer in Turkey,” Jambon said.

Speaking as the nation held another minute of silence on the third and final day of mourning, Michel said “the government and the authorities in charge will do absolutely everything to shed light on the attacks.”

“There can be no impunity … there can be no shadow of a doubt,” he said in a speech to the country’s federal and regional parliaments, its senators, and King Philippe and his wife.

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