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2 Brothers Identified as Brussels Attackers; 3rd Suspect Is Sought

 CCTV of three suspects wheeling baggage trolleys through Brussels airport. Police are hunting the man wearing a white jacket who is thought to have fled the scene. Photograph: Sepa/Rex/Shutterstock
CCTV of three suspects wheeling baggage trolleys through Brussels airport. Police are hunting the man wearing a white jacket who is thought to have fled the scene. Photograph: Sepa/Rex/Shutterstock
  • Belgian newspaper says third suspect arrested

  • Death toll in Islamic State bombings reaches 31

  • First victims of attacks on Zaventem airport and metro station named

 
New york Times 

BRUSSELS — Two bombers who carried out deadly attacks on Tuesday at Brussels Airport have been identified as brothers with criminal records, state news media reported on Wednesday.

The brothers were identified as Khalid el-Bakraoui, 27, and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, 30, whom the police had been searching for since the March 15 raid on an apartment in the Forest district of Brussels, the radio station RTBF reported, citing police sources. A third attacker has not been publicly identified and is still at large.

'Suspect arrested' The main surviving suspect in the attacks, Najim Laachraoui, has been arrested in the south-west Brussels suburb of Anderlect, according to Belgian media.
‘Suspect arrested’
The main surviving suspect in the attacks, Najim Laachraoui, has been arrested in the south-west Brussels suburb of Anderlect, according to Belgian media.

Belgium remained at its highest terror alert level. The airport is still closed. Some bus, subway and tram lines were operating with limited stops, while others were still shut down. Security forces were monitoring access to the subway network and checking bags. Transit service was limited to the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Eurostar train service connecting Brussels and London was running again. Some schools were open, and, as of 4 p.m., citizens will no longer be asked to stay indoors.

The Place du Grand Sablon, a handsome square in central Brussels that normally pulsates with dog-walkers, tourists and shoppers seeking chocolates and luxury goods, was silent. Several shops were closed. At one cafe, the few customers were hunched over newspapers.

Frédéric Van Leeuw, the Belgian federal prosecutor, is scheduled to give another briefing on Wednesday. Many questions remained unanswered: Did the attacks relate to the capture on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving member of the team directly involved in the deadly attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13? What additional attacks are the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Tuesday assaults, planning?

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And if the Bakraoui brothers have been wanted since the March 15 raid, as several Belgian news outlets reported last week, why did the authorities not issue a most-wanted alert asking for the public’s help in finding them?

Khalid el-Bakraoui is believed to have rented the apartment in Forest, under a false name, as well as one in Charleroi, Belgium. The raid in Forest turned up fingerprints belonging to Mr. Abdeslam.

Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 after shooting at police officers following an attempted robbery of a currency exchange office.

In 2011, Khalid el-Bakraoui was sentenced to five years in prison for attempted carjackings; at the time of his arrest, he had been in possession of assault rifles.

The attacks on Tuesday, on Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek subway station in Brussels, killed at least 30 people.

A day earlier, the Belgian authorities identified a man suspected of being an accomplice of Mr. Abdeslam and enlisted the public’s help in finding him.

The man was identified as Najim Laachraoui, 24, a Belgian citizen who went to Syria in February 2013. Mr. Laachraoui, using the name Soufiane Kayal, was one of two men using fake Belgian identification cards who were with Mr. Abdeslam in a Mercedes on Sept. 9 as they passed through a checkpoint between Hungary and Austria. Mr. Laachraoui was also carrying a fake Syrian identification card.

They asked the public late on Monday to report any information about him or his whereabouts.

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Mr. Laachraoui is now being sought as the possible bombmaker. His DNA was found on at least one of the suicide belts used in the Paris attacks and at a house in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels, according to Claude Moniquet, a former intelligence official in France and the co-founder of a Belgium-based think tank, the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. In Schaerbeek, the police found traces of the explosive TATP and believe suicide vests may have been assembled there, he said.

The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said that a raid Tuesday afternoon in Schaerbeek turned up “an explosive device” and “chemical products,” but it was not immediately clear if TATP was among them.

Speaking on La Première radio on Wednesday morning, Interior Minister Jan Jambon said that police raids would continue, and that the threat status would remain at its highest level, 4.

“There are many hypotheses to put on the table,” he said. “It’s up to investigators to sort out fact from fiction.”

Mr. Jambon discounted speculation that the attacks were reprisals for the arrest of Mr. Abdeslam, saying it was unlikely that terrorists “could have launched attacks of a scale seen yesterday in two, three days.”

Speaking later to RTL radio, Mr. Jambon said it was unlikely that the attacks could have been avoided if Belgium had been at the highest threat level instead of Level 3, which was imposed after the Paris attacks.

“We were at Level 3; that means the probability is enormously elevated,” he said, adding that Belgium had “everything possible in place to avoid a catastrophe like what happened yesterday, like other countries.”

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Mr. Jambon added, “A zero risk is not going to happen.”

“Level 4 is when we have information that an attack will occur at a certain moment, in a certain place,” he continued. “We did not have that information.”

Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, told RTBF that the apparent link between the Bakraoui brothers and Mr. Abdeslam suggested that the Brussels attacks were not the work of another active terrorist cell.

He suggested that, from a security perspective, this could mitigate the current threat.

The Brussels Airport said Wednesday morning that it was still determining when it could reopen. “As soon as we have access to the terminal building, we can assess the damage,” the airport said on its Twitter feed. “Later today we will assess when operations can be resumed.”

Areas like the Brussels Airport departure hall are particularly vulnerable because, like at most Western airports, bags are not searched until after check-in. That allows a would-be attacker to pack a bomb into a suitcase that could have far more space than an explosive vest and therefore be far more lethal.

In terrorism-plagued countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq and some others in the Middle East, bags are put through scanners when travelers enter the airport.

At least one of the bombs used in Brussels — the one at the airport — did far more damage and appears to have been far more powerful than those used in Paris, blowing out many of the windows in the large departure hall and shaking nearby buildings.

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