Brussels terror suspect is bomb maker linked to Paris November attacks

Wednesday, 23 March, 2016 - 11:45

The Brussels airport attacker still at large is Najim Laachraoui, 25, a suspected Isil commander who made the suicide bombs used in last November's Paris terror attacks and travelled to Hungary with recently captured prime suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Laachraoui's DNA has been found in houses used by the Paris attackers last year and he had traveled to Hungary in September with Paris attacks prime suspect Salah Abdeslam.

A Belgian national, Laachraoui is one of Europe's most wanted men who gave police the slip last year when he returned from Syria.

The two suicide bombers who carried out the attacks in Brussels airport on Tuesday were brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui, Brussels residents known to the police for crime, the RTBF public broadcaster said, quoting an unnamed source.

Khalid, under a false name, had rented the flat in the Forest borough of the Belgian capital where police killed a gunman in a raid last week, RTBF said.

Investigators found after that raid an Islamic State flag, an assault rifle, detonators and a fingerprint of Paris attacks prime suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested three days later.

Undated handout CCTV stills issued by the Belgian Federal Police of one of three men thought to be connected with the Brussels attacks, who is believed to be on the run. Federal Police/PA Wire

Both brothers have a criminal records, but have not been linked by the police to terrorism until now, RTBF said.

The death toll in the attacks on the Belgian capital, home to the European Union institutions and NATO, rose to at least 31 with more than 200 wounded, Health Minister Maggie De Block said on VRT television.

Undated handout CCTV stills issued by the Belgian Federal Police of one of three men believed to be connected with the Brussels attacks. Federal Police/PA Wire

Laachraoui grew up in Schaerbeek and had set up at least one bomb-making factory there in the weeks before Paris. It is thought he was the mastermind behind the latest outrage after suggestions the same kind of explosive - dubbed "Mother of Satan" - was used in the attack on the Belgian capital's transport hub.

An Iraqi intelligence source claimed the attack, which had been planned by Isil for three months, was shifted to Brussels and brought forward after the arrest of fellow Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam last Friday.

Undated handout CCTV stills issued by the Belgian Federal Police of one of three men believed to be connected with the Brussels attacks. Federal Police/PA Wire

Police moved on the Schaerbeek district hours after the attacks and discovered a bomb containing nails, chemical products and an Islamic State flag at one address.


A former Catholic schoolboy and electromechanics student, Laachraoui was stopped by police in September last year, weeks before the Paris attacks, as he made his way across Europe from Syria. He was in a car with Abdeslam on their way from Budapest to Brussels when they were stopped. But police waved them on after they convinced officers they were tourists on a trip to Vienna.

Because they were travelling on false identities, police were unaware that an international warrant had been issued for him in March 2014 under his real name.

Laachraoui was only publicly identified as a Paris suspect on Monday and Brussels was targeted less than 24 hours later. He had left Belgium for Syria in February 2013 where he received terror training before returning to Europe posing as a refugee.

He was picked up in Budapest in September last year by Abdeslam and taken to Brussels. He was also given the fake identity of Soutane Kayal which he then used to move across Europe.

Under his fake identity, Laachraoui rented a house in Auvelais, near the central Belgian city of Namur, used by some of the Paris killers, and at another suspected hideout in the rue Henri Berge in Schaerbeek.

Under his fake identity, Laachraoui rented a house in Auvelais, near the central Belgian city of Namur, used by some of the Paris killers, and at another suspected hideout in the rue Henri Berge in Schaerbeek.

Laachraoui's DNA was later found on two of the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks. It was also found in the addresses raided in Schaerbeek and Auvelais.

Laachraoui was already suspected of recruiting others to fight in Syria and was linked to Abdelhamid Abaaoud - the Belgian mastermind behind Paris.

He was recently tried in absentia for involvement in a network of Belgians who left for Syria, in which the prosecutor called for him to be handed a 15-year prison sentence for persuading several of his friends to join the ranks of Isil. The verdict will be pronounced in May.

A manhunt was under way last night for Laachraoui , now confirmed as the third member of a team of attackers responsible for bringing carnage to Brussels airport yesterday, as the Belgian capital suffered a string of bombings by jihadists that left 34 dead.

Belgium shut down its airports and train network in response to the attacks and stepped up security at its nuclear power plants. The Belgian authorities warned against all travel to its capital.

Days after the Belgian authorities ended their four-month hunt for the Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, a new pursuit began as police issued a CCTV image of three men pushing heavily laden luggage trolleys into Brussels Airport shortly before its departure hall, crowded with travellers, was devastated by two explosions at 8am.

Investigators were urgently seeking Laachraoui- clad in a thick light-coloured jacket with a black hat and thick glasses - after announcing that his two apparent accomplices were believed to have died in the suicide attack, which claimed 14 lives and wounded 100.

The discovery of an unexploded suicide vest at the international hub led to speculation last night that Laachraoui may have pulled out of the assault at the last moment.

An hour after the attack, a third device detonated on a train at the central Maelbeek metro station, killing 20 and injuring more than 100.

As a European capital once more became the scene of choreographed murder, Isil claimed responsibility for the atrocity. Brussels had been living in fear of such an event since it emerged that the city had been the base for the attacks on Paris last November.

There was speculation that the attackers may have been prompted to strike swiftly because they feared police may be closing in on them, after the revelation on Monday by Abdeslam's lawyer that his client was "collaborating" and "communicating" with police. Pieter Van Ostaeyen, an expert on Islamic radicalism in Belgium, said: "These guys acted because of last week, the arrest of Salah Abdeslam. They needed to kill immediately before they would be identified. It is not in retaliation over the capture. It is rather that their cover might have been blown."

The Belgian Prime Minister acknowledged that fears of further attacks on home soil had come true.


A sombre Charles Michel said: "What we feared has happened. In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity."

After a day in which Brussels, the base of the institutions of the EU as well as the headquarters of Nato, was put in lockdown, federal prosecutors confirmed last night that raids in the Schaerbeek area of the city had led to the discovery of an explosive device containing nails, chemical products and an "Islamic State" flag.

At least one Kalashnikov - the weapon used by the Paris attackers - was recovered from the attack on the airport. Doctors treating the injured said they had recovered nails from survivors, suggesting the bomb or bombs had been packed with additional shrapnel.

elgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said two of the three men in the CCTV photo had "very likely committed a suicide attack", while confirming the manhunt for Laachraoui  - now confirmed as the third man dressed in white.

But as the hunt for the fugitive continued, questions were being asked about the timing of the attack and whether it was linked to publicity surrounding the arrest of Abdeslam in a shootout on Friday.

Ministers and officials were barely able to conceal their relief at the capture of the Belgian-born jihadist, who appears to have spent the four months since participating in the bloodbath hiding in his native city. One minister tweeted: "We got him."

But revelations from prosecutors that they believed the jihadist may have been plotting further attacks and confirmation from his lawyer that his client was co-operating with investigators led to concern that the killings were the work of members of the same or a linked jihadist cell who believed security services were close to tracking them down.

Mr Van Ostaeyen said yesterday's bombs followed the same logic of previous attacks: kill as many people as possible, without discrimination.

He added: "I'm afraid that the police are just a few steps behind. They were very convinced that they stopped something big last week. And Isis probably wanted to show they can hit the heart of Europe at any time."

Witnesses described hearing shouts in Arabic and gunshots moments before a heavy detonation blew out windows at the airport, bringing down a rain of ceiling fittings and water from ruptured pipes on the bodies of passengers who had earlier been queuing at check-in desks.

The bombing at Maelbeek station took place some 100 metres from the headquarters of the European Commission. Dazed and injured commuters spilled out on to the streets in scenes reminiscent of the 7/7 attacks on London.

Within minutes of the assault, the Belgian capital was placed in a state of lockdown with all public transport suspended and workers ordered to remain in their offices and pupils in their schools. Security was also tightened at Belgium's nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile, a small number of terror suspects based in Ireland are being "monitored closely" in the wake of the Brussels terror attack.


The Government has said an attack here is "not likely" but we cannot consider ourselves "immune from the threat".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny ordered an emergency meeting of the little-known National Security Committee yesterday to assess the risk to Ireland from terrorists.

The committee is chaired by the Secretary General of Department of the Taoiseach, Martin Fraser, and includes the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Mark Mellet, and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, as well as officials from several other government departments.

Security was stepped up at airports across the globe yesterday. In Britain, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told the Commons home affairs select committee that Britons should be "alert but not alarmed", and disclosed steps to boost security at ports and airports.

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, announced 1,600 additional police officers would patrol air terminals and other key sites.

Thomas de Maiziere, his German counterpart, also revealed security measures would be increased at "critical infrastructure" and along the country's borders. Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands followed suit and New York intensified policing at its three main airports, bridges, tunnels and on public transport.

Source - Irish Independent