Analysis: Serious questions remain over Belgian intelligence
Claims police interrogated Salah Abdeslam for just one hour before Brussels attacks
A suspect lies on the platform of a tramway station in an image taken from amateur video after he was shot and wounded by police in the Brussels borough of Schaerbeek. Photograph: Sudpresse via Reuters
They came one by one to collect the possessions that were abandoned and lost during the chaos of Tuesday morning.
Up to 6,000 suitcases, most of which had been already boarded on to planes on Tuesday, were lined up in a hangar at Brussels Airport yesterday waiting for their owners, a potent visual reminder of the human tragedy that unfolded there three days ago.
The process of reclaiming lost luggage was another step for those caught up in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, another stage for a city still coming to terms with the atrocities that left at least 31 people dead and up to 300 injured.
Even as the dramatic arrest of a suspect in the Schaerbeek area of the city unfolded yesterday afternoon , Brussels was slowly adjusting to normality even as the city seemed strangely quiet as expats tried to reschedule Easter plans.
At the Catholic Church at the end of my street the bells rang out for the Good Friday service. The square had been packed with cars the previous evening for Holy Thursday.
But as Brussels’ residents prepared for an Easter weekend edged with sadness, serious questions remain.
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Najim Laachraoui, the 24-year-old Belgian man who blew himself up at Brussels airport on Tuesday, had been an engineering student at Libre de Bruxelles but had dropped out. Suspected to be a key protagonist in a Brussels-based terrorist cell, traces of his DNA was found in the Schaerbeek apartment where the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks were made. He is known to have travelled to Syria in February 2013.
One former classmate posted a group photo on Facebook of eight students including Najim, adding that he was completely “shocked” at his involvement in the attacks.
Najim’s brother Mourad, a taekwando champion who had proudly represented his country in the sport, condemned his brother’s actions. The two brothers’ divergent stories provided a ready-made sociological case-study – how did two people, from the same family and background, choose two so very different paths?
Further incriminating stories about the police investigation in the run-up to the attacks have also emerged – revelations that police questioned Salah Abdeslam for only one hour between his arrest last Friday and Tuesday’s attacks, with some analysts suspecting that Abdeslam himself may have planned to take part in Tuesday’s attacks.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, the brothers who blew themselves up within an hour of each other at Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station, may both have been on a US terror list.
With these details comes an increasing focus on the political fallout from the attacks.
Although two senior ministers – interior minister Jan Jambon and justice minister Koen Geens – offered their resignations at a cabinet meeting on Thursday, they was declined by prime minister Charles Michel, despite the fact that Jambon conceded that authorities had “missed the chance” to seize airport bomber Ibrahim el-Bakraoui when he was identified in Turkey. At a special session of the Belgian parliament yesterday, Geens appeared to lay the blame at the door of the police services for not identifying Ibrahim El Bakraoui, despite warnings from Turkey.
As further details emerge, pressure is likely to grow both on the Belgian government and the country’s police force.