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BRUSSELS

Brussels bombers had direct links to Paris attackers

Three suspected suicide bombers involved in the Brussels attacks have been named and it's emerged they had clear links to the Paris attackers.

Brussels bombers had direct links to Paris attackers
The suspects believed to be behind the Brussels attacks. Photo: AFP

Belgian state broadcaster RTBF have released the names of two of the suspected suicide bombers involved in Tuesday's attack at Brussels airport and on the Metro.

They are said to be brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. The pair were well know to police as longstanding criminals.

Quoting a police source RTBF say Ibrahim (pictured above in the centre of the photo and below in the tweet) was one of the men who targeted the airport while his brother Khalid was behind the suicide bombing at Maelbeek metro station.

 

This has not been officially confirmed by authorities. If RTBF are right then the second airport bomber, presumed to be the man in the tweet below, remains unidentified.

The El-Bakraoui brothers had clear links to the jihadists who carried out the deadly attacks in Paris in November and in particular to Salah Abdeslam, the chief surviving suspect of the Paris attacks who was captured on Friday.

Khalid El Bakraoui, used a false name to rent the flat in the Forest area of Brussels which was the scene last Tuesday (March 15th) of gun battle between police and unknown suspects.

Algerian Mohamed Belkaid was shot and killed during the police raid, but authorities later confirmed that two gunmen were able to escape.

There were suggestions that one of the fugitives was Salah Abdeslam, who was eventually tracked down and arrested last Friday in Molenbeek, but that was never confirmed by police. It's now possible that it was the el-Bakraoui brothers who fled the flat under a hail of bullets.

The same brother who rented the Forest flat also rented out a hideout in the town of Charleroi that had been used by the Paris cell before the November attacks.

Second airport bomber named

One of the brothers is also suspected of providing ammunition and weapons for the Paris attacks. The pair were among the Paris suspects on the run and being hunted by Belgian police.

(The two El-Bakraoui brothers and Salah Abdeslam in the middle)

 

On Wednesday the third suspect  was was named by Belgium media as Najim Laachraoui (see photo below). He was already wanted by police in connection with the Paris attacks.

Belgian media had reported that Laachraoui has been arrested in Anderlecht on Wednesday morning, but later in the morning those reports were proved to be premature as authorities denied the arrest.

There was a further twist later on Tuesday was named as the second airport bomber on the left of the photo below.

DNA Laachraoui, 24, was found at an apartment in Brussels where bomb-making equipment and one of Abdeslam's fingerprints had been found in December.

His DNA was also found on explosives used in the Paris attacks. Prosecutors have said Laachraoui “travelled to Syria in February 2013,” and was registered under a false name at the border between Austria and Hungary last September.

He was travelling with Abdeslam and Mohamed Belkaid, who was killed in a Brussels raid three days before Abdeslam was captured.

Belkaid is believed to have provided logistical support to the Paris

The third man, pictured in the photo above on the right dressed in white, has still not been identified and police in Brussels are appealing for information to find him.
 
It is believed he fled the airport after failing to detonate the bomb he was pushing in his trolley.
 
Salah Abdeslam was said to have been planning an attack in Brussels. Prosecutors have said he was “cooperating” with investigators, but whatever they gleaned from him was not enough to prevent Tuesday's attacks.

There was speculation that the bombings may have been to revenge Abdeslam's arrest, but most experts belive it was more likely that a planned attack was simply brought forward, perhaps out of fear that Abdeslam would give them up.

Did he give them up too late from police to stop the bombings or did he keep the plan hidden from investigators? Given his links it would be surprising if he knew nothing about the plan to attack the airport and the Metro.

Intelligence services, will come under more scrutiny over whether they could have prevented Tuesday's bombings given the names of the attackers were on their radar.

Speaking on Wednesday morning French PM Manuel Valls said:”At this stage more than 30 people have been identified as linked to the Paris attacks. Eleven are dead, 12 are under lock and key and others are still wanted.” 
 
“Were some of them involved in the Paris attacks? We will see, the investigation will reveal this,” he added.
 
“These attacks are organised from Syria… with a base, it is obvious, in Belgium but also in France.”

 

 

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TERRORISM

Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam refuses to talk at Belgian trial

The only surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, refused to answer questions on Monday as he went on trial in Brussels over a bloody shootout with police that led to his capture.

Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam refuses to talk at Belgian trial
Belgian police officers stand guard prior to the opening of the trial of prime suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam at the "Palais de Justice". Photo: AFP
Tight security surrounded the start of the trial of the 28-year-old, who was transferred overnight from a jail near the French capital Paris and arriving in Belgium in a convoy of police vehicles.
 
The 28-year-old, once Europe's most wanted man, left a jail near the French capital in the middle of the night in a convoy of tactical police vehicles with blue lights flashing.
   
The Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent faces charges of attempted terrorist murder of police officers and carrying banned weapons over a gunbattle in the Forest district of Brussels on March 15, 2016.
   
Three police officers were wounded and a jihadist was killed in the fight, which came as Abdeslam was on the run four months after the Paris attacks. He was captured three days later.
   
Hundreds of Belgian security forces turned the Palais de Justice court building in Brussels into a virtual fortress while a helicopter with searchlights circled overhead as he arrived.
   
“This must remain an ordinary trial,” said Luc Hennart, who presides over the court. “If there is the slightest problem I will order the courtroom to be evacuated.”
   
Abdeslam and the man arrested with him, Tunisian national Sofiane Ayari, 24, could serve up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
 
Photo: AFP
 
'Important for victims'
 
The non-jury trial is the prelude to a later one in France and prosecutors hope the Brussels trial will yield clues not only about the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris but also the suicide bombings months later in Brussels.
   
Abdeslam has refused point-blank to speak to investigators throughout the nearly two years since his arrest, which capped a four-month hunt for Europe's most wanted man.
   
But he has insisted on attending the Brussels trial, where three judges are to lead proceedings for four days, raising the question of whether he will use it to break his silence.
   
Hennart insisted that the trial would only focus on the shootout, saying: “That is what we will talk about, we will not talk about either the Brussels or Paris attacks.”
   
Tight secrecy surrounded the plans for transferring Abdeslam from Fleury-Merogis prison in the Parisian suburbs, and then back to a prison just across the border in northern France every night.
   
Two separate convoys left Fleury-Merogis in the middle of the night with an escort of elite French officers with blue lights flashing, while a third group of unmarked vehicles left shortly afterwards.
   
Pot-smoking delinquent to key Paris attacks suspect: The story of Salah Abdeslam
Photo: AFP
 
The boyish former bar owner has spent nearly 20 months in isolation under 24-hour video surveillance at Fleury-Merogis, after being transferred to France after his arrest.
 
At the Brussels court journalists and officials all had to pass through security checks. A police sniffer dog checked the austere courtroom itself, into which journalists were banned from taking phones and computers.
 
Shot in the leg
 
Investigators believe Abdeslam's capture three days after the shootout caused members of his jihadist cell to bring forward plans for the attacks in Brussels.
   
Suicide attacks on March 22, 2016, killed 32 people at Brussels airport and a metro station near the EU headquarters.
   
The same cell is believed to have been behind both the Paris and Brussels attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.
 
Police say Abdeslam and Ayari were holed up at the Forest flat when it was raided by French and Belgian police in a routine operation after the Paris attacks.
 
A third suspect, 33-year-old Algerian Mohamed Belkaid, died while providing covering fire for their escape through a back door.
   
Police say they found Abdeslam's fingerprints in the flat, confirming they were on the trail of the last suspect in the rifle and bomb attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, bars, restaurants and the national stadium in the French capital on November 13, 2015.
 
Abdeslam is reported to have disposed of a suicide belt before fleeing. He is also suspected of being the driver in the attacks, in which his brother Brahim was one of the suicide bombers.
 
Armed officers shot in the leg and captured him and Ayari just yards from Abdeslam's home in Molenbeek, a gritty Brussels immigrant neighbourhood.
   
Ayari entered Europe in September 2015 via the Greek island of Lesbos at the height of a migration crisis gripping the continent, and was one of dozen suspected jihadists ferried around Europe by Abdeslam.