Laptop found near terror suspects’ hideout held images of Belgian PM’s home
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Laptop found near terror suspects’ hideout held images of Belgian PM’s home

Officials request US authorities’ help to examine electronic devices seized in raids conducted after last week’s Brussels attacks

File: (Left to right) Khalid El Bakraoui, Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, who carried out the deadly suicide bombings in Brussels on March 22, 2016, in a photo distributed by Belgian authorities. (Belgian Federal Police)
File: (Left to right) Khalid El Bakraoui, Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, who carried out the deadly suicide bombings in Brussels on March 22, 2016, in a photo distributed by Belgian authorities. (Belgian Federal Police)

An official linked to the investigation of the Brussels terror attacks said Wednesday that a laptop found near the hideout of the suspects in the March 22 airport bombing contained images of the prime minister’s official residence and office.

The official, who asked not to be identified because the investigation was ongoing, said that at the moment there were “absolutely no” specific indications that Prime Minister Charles Michel was under threat from the attackers.

He said the computer “was full of stuff” of many locations and information garnered from the Internet.

The prime minister’s office has long been under special security review which been increased since the November 13 attacks in Paris.

(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, during a homage ceremony for victims two days after a triple bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State group hit Brussels's airport and the Maalbeek metro station, killing 31 people and wounding 270 others. (Yorick Jansens/Belga/AFP)
(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, during a homage ceremony for victims two days after a triple bomb attack claimed by the Islamic State group hit Brussels’s airport and the Maalbeek metro station, killing 31 people and wounding 270 others. (Yorick Jansens/Belga/AFP)

A total of 32 people were killed in coordinated suicide attacks that were claimed by the Islamic State group and which also hit Maalbeek metro station in central Brussels.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Belgian officials had requested of US authorities to help examine two laptops and several phones seized from suspects in raids since the attacks in Brussels.

As Brussels struggles to get back on its feet, criticism of authorities’ handling of the case has mounted after the sole suspect charged over the attacks was freed on Monday for lack of evidence.

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 had charged the suspect, known as Faycal C., with “terrorist murder” and were investigating whether he was the third airport attacker who fled after his bomb did not detonate.

But the hunt is now back on for the so-called “man in the hat,” seen in CCTV footage next to the two suicide bombers at the airport.

The inquiry into the attacks has been dogged by accusations that Belgium missed a series of leads in cracking down on a jihadist network linked to the Brussels bombings as well as the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

Adding to the storm, Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said Tuesday that he regretted the release of the man identified by Belgian media as Faycal Cheffou, who claimed to be a freelance journalist.

Hinting at suspicions that the man was a jihadist recruiter, Mayeur told French media: “There is a very thin line between an agitated radical and a radical recruiter, and in this case the judge probably didn’t want to cross that line.”

The man’s lawyer Olivier Martins told RTBF television his client was let go because he had an alibi, based on telephone analysis, which showed he was at home at the time of the attacks.

Soldiers stations in the Belgium capital of Brussels standing in front of a sign to Zaventem airport, March 29, 2016. (AFP/John Thys)
Soldiers stations in the Belgium capital of Brussels standing in front of a sign to Zaventem airport, March 29, 2016. (AFP/John Thys)

Under pressure at home and abroad over an apparent series of missed chances, the Belgian government has admitted mistakes were made.

In the most damning revelation, Turkey has accused Belgium of ignoring warnings from Ankara after it deported airport suicide bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui as a “terrorist fighter” last year, following his arrest near the Syrian border.

Two senior Belgian ministers offered to resign last week after the Turkish link emerged, but Michel refused to accept their resignations.

In a development sure to raise fresh questions about whether enough was done to prevent the carnage, a Dutch minister also revealed that the FBI shared information with the Netherlands about El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid — the metro bomber — six days before the attacks.

Justice Minister Ard van der Steur said the report contained “notification of Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid’s criminal backgrounds and Khalid’s terrorist background.”

The following day “the issue came up during bilateral contact between the Dutch and Belgian police,” said Van der Steur.

Raids and arrests in Belgium, France and the Netherlands since the Brussels bombings have exposed a complex web of jihadist cells, underscoring the need for better European coordination in the fight against terrorism.

Dutch prosecutors said Tuesday that a French suspect — arrested in Rotterdam over the weekend in connection with a foiled plot to attack France — intends to fight his extradition to France.

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