Brussels attacks: What we know so far

Suicide bombings claimed by IS at airport and metro station left 31 people dead and 300 wounded

A police officer takes part in an operation in Brussels, late on March 24, 2016. (AFP/Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck)
A police officer takes part in an operation in Brussels, late on March 24, 2016. (AFP/Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck)

Belgian police are hunting two suspects in the Brussels bombings as investigators establish more and more links between the bloody events in Europe’s symbolic capital and November’s carnage in Paris.

Belgian police staged fresh raids late Thursday and Friday, detaining nine people in all, including three linked to the Paris attacks in which 130 people died.

This is what is known so far about Tuesday’s suicide attacks at Brussels airport and a metro station that left 31 people dead and 300 wounded and were claimed by the Islamic State group.

The first suicide bomber struck at 7:58 a.m. (0658 GMT) in the departure hall at Zaventem airport, followed nine seconds later by a second bomber, federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said.

Both men were captured moments before on security cameras, pushing trolleys with dark bags through the busy airport.

A man wearing a dark hat and white jacket walking next to them is believed to be a third assailant whose bomb failed to go off and who fled the scene.

The bombs caused part of the terminal building’s ceiling to cave in and blew out windows as people fled in panic.

Just after 9:00 a.m., a suicide bomber struck in Maalbeek metro station, just a few hundred metres (yards) from the main European Union offices and many diplomatic missions.

The explosion ripped apart a train, sending a cloud of smoke and dust onto the street above where dazed and bloodied survivors got first aid.

The health ministry said Wednesday 31 people died in the attacks, with 300 wounded, a toll that could rise further with 61 injured in critical condition.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said around 40 nationalities were among the dead and wounded but the process of identifying the victims is slow.

Eleven fatalities have so far been identified by their families or governments, including citizens of Britain, China, France, Morocco, Venezuela and the United States, as well as several EU staff.

Following fingerprint analysis, the prosecutor Wednesday named Belgian national Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, as one of the airport bombers.

Federal prosecutors identified the second airport bomber as Moroccan-born Najim Laachraoui, said to be a top IS bombmaker who had fought for the group in Syria and whose DNA was found on explosives used in Paris.

Bakraoui’s younger brother Khalid El Bakraoui was named as the metro bomber.

Van Leeuw said the brothers had criminal records “not linked to terrorism,” with Khalid a convicted car jacker and Ibrahim sentenced to nine years in prison for firing a gun at police.

Prosecutors said Khalid rented properties in the southern city of Charleroi from where suspected Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud set off to lead the assault in the French capital.

A taxi driver who drove three men to Brussels airport led police to a house in the city’s neighbourhood of Schaarbeek.

There, investigators found 15 kilos (33 pounds) of explosives, an unexploded bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making materials.

They also found a computer containing a “will” by Ibrahim El Bakraoui who said he was under pressure to act as the police closed in and he did not want to end up in a jail cell.

Besides the third man at the airport who fled, police are also seeking a second suspect over the metro attack after sources said a man with a large bag was seen on CCTV footage at Maalbeek station.

Another source said Bakraoui was seen talking to the man who did not get into the train carriage with him.

The bombings took place just four days after the arrest in Brussels of key Paris attacks suspect, Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, after four months on the run.

His lawyer said Thursday that Abdeslam “didn’t know” about the Brussels attacks and that he wanted to be extradited as quickly as possible to France, after initially opposing it.

Belgium’s federal prosecutor said Friday Abdeslam has “invoked his right to silence” and has not spoken to investigators since a brief interview the day after his arrest.

The jihadist networks behind the Paris and Brussels attacks are “in the process of being destroyed,” French President Francois Hollande said Friday after police foiled what they described as an imminent attack.

French police arrested 34-year-old Reda Kriket near Paris on Thursday, saying he was in the advanced stages of planning an attack.

On Friday, the Belgian authorities made three fresh arrests in Brussels, after picking up six people overnight Thursday.

The Belgian federal prosecutor meanwhile revealed Friday that Laachraoui’s DNA was found on a suicide vest and a piece of cloth at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, and on a bomb at the Stade de France stadium, strengthening suspicions that he was the network’s bombmaker.

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