Belgian intelligence under fire as known jihadist visits carnage on Brussels airport and metro
Two brothers, one a wanted terrorist and both with long histories of violent crime, were identified as the Brussels suicide bombers yesterday as security officials were accused of missing a string of opportunities to prevent the deadly attack.
Brahim el-Bakraoui (29) and his brother Khalid (27) were named as two of the four-strong bombing team who struck the airport and a metro station. Prosecutors warned that several accomplices were still at large.
Officials apparently failed to register that Brahim el-Bakraoui, who was the subject of an Interpol 'red notice' alert, had re-entered the country after being deported from Turkey as a suspected jihadist last year. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the bomber had been detained near the Syrian border last June and deported to the Netherlands at his own request.
Both Belgian and Dutch authorities were formally notified of his deportation and the suspicion that he was a foreign fighter, Mr Erdogan said.
It emerged yesterday that police had found the last testament of Brahim on a computer in which he detailed his increasingly desperate attempts to avoid capture and a long jail sentence.
"I don't know what to do. I'm in a hurry. I'm on the run. People are looking for me everywhere. And if I give myself up then I'll end up in a cell," the text read.
Only a misunderstanding with the taxi company over the size of the car ordered to take the attackers to the airport thwarted an even more destructive attack.
The terrorists were forced to leave one bomb behind when the firm sent a smaller car than expected to pick them up.
The unexploded bomb was discovered on Tuesday night when police raided the house where the plotters had prepared their attack. It was the same type as that used in the Paris attacks and was found with an Isis flag.
Belgium held a nationwide minute of silence yesterday with King Philippe, Prime Minister Charles Michel and Mr Valls laying a wreath at the Maelbeek underground station. In the afternoon, thousands of people gathered at the Place de la Bourse in the centre of Brussels in solidarity with those killed.
Among the 34 dead was a 37-year-old Peruvian mother whose husband and twin daughters narrowly survived.
Adelma Tapia Ruiz died at Zaventem Airport while waiting to catch a flight to New York to see her two sisters for a holiday.
Her brother, Fernando Tapia, said his sister was with her Belgian husband, Christophe Delcambe, and four-year-old daughters, Maureen and Alondra, when she was killed.
A split-second decision saved the rest of her family, who had left the area moments earlier. Mr Delcambe, who was not due to fly, had taken the girls out of the check-in queue to play when a loud explosion ripped through the concourse.
One daughter was struck in the arm by shrapnel.
Mr Tapia said the family would never understand the attack. "Rest in peace, little sister, and strength to all of us who knew you," he added. "It will take much to assimilate that we will no longer see you."
The Belgian federal prosecutor, Frederic van Leeuw, told reporters that the two el-Bakraoui brothers, Brussels-born Belgian citizens, had "extensive" criminal records but they were not related to terrorism.
However, convicted car-jacker Khalid is believed to have been the subject of an Interpol 'red notice' since August last year, alerting police forces around the world to the fact that he was a wanted terrorist.
Brahim had been handed a nine-year jail sentence in 2010 after using a Kalashnikov assault rifle during a gunfight with police, and he also took part in a bungled robbery at a Western Union office.
Brahim was one of two suicide bombers killed at the airport, along with 12 other people.
Le Monde reported last night that the second airport bomber was Najim Laachraoui, who has previously been linked to the Paris massacre.
French media said his DNA had been found on explosive belts found at the Bataclan theatre and the Stade de France following the killings in the capital five months ago.
Brussels police were continuing their search for a third man in a cream-coloured coat caught on security cameras who escaped from the airport after placing a bomb that failed to detonate. His identity remains a mystery.