Brussels attacks: Turkey says Belgium ignored warnings over suicide bomber
Ibrahim el-Bakraoui identified as airport attacker, brother Khalid targetted metro
One of the attackers in the Brussels suicide bombings was deported last year from Turkey, and Belgium subsequently ignored a warning that the man was a militant, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
Mr Erdogan‘s office identified the man as Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the two brothers named by Belgium as responsible for the attacks that killed at least 31 people in Brussels on Tuesday and were claimed by the Islamic State group.
Belgian officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr Erdogan told a news conference that Bakraoui was detained in the southern Turkish province of Gaziantep near the Syrian border and was later deported to the Netherlands. Turkey also notified Dutch authorities, Mr Erdogan said.
A Dutch government official said Erdogan‘s comments were “being carefully looking into,“ but that they could not yet say if El Bakraoui had been in the Netherlands.
“One of the attackers in Brussels is an individual we detained in Gaziantep in June 2015 and deported. We reported the deportation to the Belgian Embassy in Ankara on July 14, 2015, but he was later set free,” Mr Erdogan said. “Belgium ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter.“
Earlier, Belgium’s federal prosecutor Frederic van Leeuw said the third suspect in the Brussels attacks remains at large.
Mr van Leeuw said 31 people were killed in the attacks but the figure was expected to rise as some of the 260 injured in the blasts were critically ill.
French prime minister Manuel Valls joined Belgian prime minister Charles Michel and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker for a minute’s silence, outside Maalbeek metro station in the city’s EU district.
Meanwhile, Brussels (Zaventem) airport has confirmed no flights will depart on Thursday, despite earlier expectations it would reopen.
Two of the suicide bombers have been identified as Bakraoui, who struck at Zaventem, and Khalid El Bakraoui, who struck at Maalbeek. The two were initially reported as having been involved in the airport bombing.
The taxi driver who drove the men to the airport reportedly became suspicious of them when they refused to let him help carry their luggage. He is said to have lead police to their safehouse after the bombings.
The second airport bomber has not been identified and a third, who has not been officially named but has been identified as Laachraoui, is on the run.
The Belgian federal prosecutor said on Wednesday that Laachraoui’s undetonated charge was the largest of the three brought to the airport on Tuesday.
Bomb maker Laachraoui is suspected of having played a “decisive role” in the Paris terror attacks, French media reported. He was believed to have fled the airport after his suitcase bomb failed to detonate.
Flags are flying at half mast across Belgium at the start of three days of mourning for those killed and injured in the attacks.
Belgium remains in a state of maximum alert but Brussels residents returned to work Wednesday morning amid tight security, a partially paralysed transport network, bag checks at major stations and a nervous sense of defiance.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks and warned that further atrocities would follow. A communique that was published in Arabic and French also threatens other countries in the anti-Islamic State coalition with “dark days”, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites.
In a statement, Islamic State said “caliphate soldiers, strapped with suicide vests and carrying explosive devices and machineguns” had targeted the airport and metro station, adding that they had set off their vests in the crowds.
During raids on Tuesday, which continued until late into the night, Brussels police found an explosive device containing nails, chemical products and a flag of Islamic State.
Mr Valls demanded a new show of European unity and defiance in the face of growing violence from Islamic extremists. “We are at war, in the last months we have been subjected to acts of war,” he said. “We need a full-scale mobilisation against these acts of war.”
Forensic work was continuing Wednesday at the two bomb sites.
At least 14 people died when the two bombs were detonated in the departure hall of the airport at about 8am local time, shattering glass windows and bringing down a cascade of ceiling tiles on the dead and wounded.
The first confirmed fatality was named as 37-year-old Adelma Tapia Ruiz, a mother of two from Peru.
In a TV address on Tuesday evening, King Philippe said Belgium was a country in mourning. “For each of us this March 22nd will never be a day like any other. In the face of threats, we will continue to respond together, firmly, with calm and dignity,” he said.
International leaders united in support for Belgium, with Britain’s David Cameron branding the atrocities “appalling” and US president Barack Obama condemning the “outrageous attacks against innocent people”.
While terrorism experts believe the scale of the explosions mean that they are likely to have been planned in advance, the capture of Abdeslam and his apparent co-operation with police may have encouraged the perpetrators to act sooner than they had planned.