Belgian lawmakers probe failure to avert Brussels attacks
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Belgian lawmakers probe failure to avert Brussels attacks

Parliamentary inquiry seeks to ‘shed light on responsibilities, but also make recommendations and improve our security architecture’

Belgian lawmakers during a visit of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission of the Federal Parliament at the Brussels Airport of Zaventem on April 22, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Belga / VIRGINIE LEFOUR)
Belgian lawmakers during a visit of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission of the Federal Parliament at the Brussels Airport of Zaventem on April 22, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Belga / VIRGINIE LEFOUR)

BRUSSELS (AFP) — Belgian lawmakers vowed Friday to probe how Belgium failed to thwart the Brussels bombings months after attacks in Paris, as they visited a targeted metro station before it reopens next week.

The parliament’s commission of inquiry visited the two scenes of last month’s attacks — Maalbeek station and Brussels Airport — as part of a mission to shed light by year-end on the attacks in both capitals that were allegedly carried out by the same Islamic State cell.

The panel wants to find out “the way in which Belgium had prepared since the [November] Paris attacks to try to avoid the same tragedy,” panel member Laurette Onkelex said.

It must “shed light eventually on responsibilities, but also make recommendations and improve our security architecture,” she said.

Brussels public transport service spokeswoman Francoise Ledune told AFP that Maelbeek station will resume service Monday from 6:00 am until 10:00 pm, like the rest of the network which is still closing two hours earlier than previously.

Maelbeek station has been closed since Khalid El Bakraoui detonated a bomb at 9:11 am on March 22 that killed 16 people on a train, part of coordinated suicide attacks that hit the airport in Zaventem neighborhood just over an hour earlier.

A ambulance man pushes a stretcher with a body bag, on March 23, 2016 outside the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, one day after the attack that killed 20 people. (AFP / PHILIPPE HUGUEN)

A total of 32 people died in the bombings and hundreds more were wounded.

One of the station’s eight tiled portraits by artist Benoit van Innis remains damaged and will be covered up. The same artist is now working on a project to commemorate the massacre that is due to be completed in June, Ledune said.

“In the meantime, we plan to set aside a remembrance wall where people can leave messages, words of hope,” she added.

‘Some in tears’

 

Officials quoted by the media said trains resumed service on Friday to Brussels airport, which the authorities had halted because of the damaged terminal.

Brussels airport is set to resume full operations in June after it was closed to passengers for 12 days following the attack and then began gradually to restore service.

The parliamentary commission met airport staff during their visit on Friday. “It was very moving. Some were in tears,” centrist politician Georges Dallemagne said.

The airport bombings were carried out by Khalid’s brother Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui — the alleged bombmaker for the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.

Workers operate inside the departure hall at Brussels airport on April 22, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / VIRGINIE LEFOUR)
Workers inside the departure hall at Brussels airport on April 22, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / VIRGINIE LEFOUR)

Laachraoui has also been identified by several Frenchmen held hostage by Islamic State in Syria as one of their prison guards, sources close to the investigation said.

Police earlier this month arrested Mohamed Abrini, who confessed to being the “man in the hat” caught on video with the two airport bombers and who allegedly was preparing to detonate a third bomb before fleeing the scene.

The authorities have also arrested Swedish national Osama Krayem and charged him in connection with both the Brussels and Paris attacks.

He was filmed on CCTV talking to Khalid El Bakraoui minutes before the bomb went off.

The government announced it would build a statue similar to a war memorial for the people who died in the Brussels attacks. It will also provide financial aid to victims and their families, including covering lifetime medical expenses for those injured.

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