Belgian authorities believe second attacker on the run

Fifth suspect may have taken part in attack on metro station, officials believe

Bear witness: A man cloaked in a Belgian flag looks on as hundreds of people at a makeshift memorial gather before Brussels Stock Exchange on Place de la Bourse. Photograph: Getty Images

Bear witness: A man cloaked in a Belgian flag looks on as hundreds of people at a makeshift memorial gather before Brussels Stock Exchange on Place de la Bourse. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Belgian authorities were last night searching for a potential fifth suspect in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, as criticism of the country’s police and intelligence services mounted.

It comes amid reports of at least five arrests in the northern area of the city last night.

Officials believe there was a second, unidentified bomber in the attack on Maelbeek station on Tuesday and that he may be on the run. The other bomber, Khalid el-Bakraoui, died in the explosion.

Suspected terrorists Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui died in the twin attack at Brussels airport. A third man who was with them is believed to be on the run.

The attacks left 31 people dead and up to 300 injured. About 150 people remain in hospital, 60 of them in a critical condition.

Two senior ministers – interior minister Jan Jambon and justice minister Koen Geens – offered their resignation at a cabinet meeting but this was declined by prime minister Charles Michel.

Mr Jambon, a Flemish nationalist who has become the face of Belgium’s response to the threat of terrorism, conceded that authorities had “missed the chance” to seize airport bomber Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. Turkey has accused Belgium of ignoring warnings about el-Bakraoui’s terrorist links after he was twice expelled from the country.

Broken parole

Despite a manhunt still being under way across the city, authorities lowered the security level from four to three yesterday evening. Brussels airport will remain closed until at least Monday.

Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris terrorist attacks, who was arrested in the Brussels district of Molenbeek a week ago, will not fight extradition to France, his lawyer confirmed.

Abdeslam is understood to be in a high-security prison near Bruges. A court hearing on his detention has been postponed until April 7th.

Emergency meeting

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the meeting was an opportunity “to offer [the] sympathy and condolences of the Irish people to the government and people of Belgium in the face of this appalling tragedy”.

She also called for greater co-ordination between EU member states on intelligence-sharing.

She said that while there was no specific information suggesting the risk of an imminent attack in Ireland, the State was not immune from the threat of terrorism.

Meanwhile, a French man has been arrested in the “advanced stages” of a plot to attack the country. Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there were no links “at this stage” between the plan and the attacks in Paris or Brussels. He said bomb squads were on site after a raid in Argenteuil, on the northern outskirts of the French capital, and the person was implicated at a “high level” in the plot.