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Terror web links Belgian bombers to Paris

People hold a banner showing the Brussels mascot defusing a bomb at Place de la Bourse on Wednesday evening. Bombs exploded yesterday at the Brussels airport and one of the city's metro stations, killing and wounding scores of people, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats. (AP)

People hold a banner showing the Brussels mascot defusing a bomb at Place de la Bourse on Wednesday evening. Bombs exploded yesterday at the Brussels airport and one of the city’s metro stations, killing and wounding scores of people, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats. (AP)

Belgium’s chief prosecutor has named two brothers as the Islamic State suicide bombers who killed at least 31 people in the most deadly attacks in Brussels’ history, but says another key suspect is on the run.

Tuesday’s attacks on a city sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport.

It also rekindled debate about lagging European security co-operation and flaws in police surveillance.

The Belgian federal prosecutor told a news conference on Wednesday that Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, one of two men who blew themselves up at Brussels airport, had left a will on a computer dumped in a rubbish bin near the militants’ hideout.

In it, he described himself as “always on the run, not knowing what to do anymore, being hunted everywhere, not being safe any longer and that if he hangs around, he risks ending up next to the person in a cell” – a possible reference to suspected Paris bomber Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week.

His brother Khalid El Bakraoui, 27, detonated a bomb an hour later on a crowded rush-hour metro train near the European Commission headquarters, prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said.

Both men, born in Belgium, had criminal records for armed robbery, but had not been linked to Islamist militants until Abdeslam’s arrest, when police began a race against time to track down his suspected accomplices.

That seems to have prompted the bombers to rush into an attack in Belgium after months of lying low, according to the testament found on the laptop.

At least 31 people were killed and 271 wounded in the attacks, the prosecutor said.

The toll could rise because some of the bomb victims at Maelbeek metro station were blown to pieces, making it difficult to identify victims.

Several survivors were still in critical condition.

The Bakraoui brothers were identified by their fingerprints and on security cameras, the prosecutor said.

A second suicide bomber at the airport was yet to be identified and a third man, whom he did not name, had left the biggest bomb and ran out of the terminal before the explosions.

Belgian media named that man as Najim Laachraoui, 25, a suspected Islamic State recruiter and bomb-maker whose DNA was found on two explosives belts used in last November’s Paris attacks and at a Brussels safe house used by Abdeslam.

De Standaard newspaper, however, citing an unidentified source, named Laachraoui as the second suicide bomber at the airport.

Turkey said it had detained Ibrahim El Bakraoui near the Syrian border last year and deported him to the Netherlands before he was briefly held in Belgium, then released.

‘Belgium ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter,’ President Tayyip Erdogan said.

A minute’s silence was observed across Belgium at noon.

Prime Minister Charles Michel reviewed security measures with his inner cabinet before attending a memorial event at European Commission headquarters with King Philippe, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Valls played down cross-border sniping over security, saying: “We must turn the page on naivete, a form of carefreeness that our societies have known.

“It is Europe that has been attacked. The response to terrorism must be European.”

EU justice and interior ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday, the Dutch EU presidency said.

More than 1000 people gathered around an improvised shrine with candles and street paintings outside the Brussels bourse.
Belgium’s crisis co-ordination centre kept the level of security alert at the maximum as the man hunt continued.

Some buses and trains were running, but the metro and the airport were closed, along with key road tunnels in Brussels.

Brussels airport seemed likely to remain shut for several days over the busy Easter holiday weekend, since the departure hall was still being combed as a crime scene on Wednesday and repairs can only begin once investigators are finished.

Security experts believed the blasts were probably in preparation before Friday’s arrest of locally based French national Abdeslam, 26, whom prosecutors accuse of a key role in the November 13 Paris attacks.

He was caught and has been speaking to investigators after a shootout at an apartment in the south of the city, after which another Islamic State flag and explosives were found.


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