Belgian media withdraw report on Brussels blasts prime suspect’s arrest
Belgian media have withdrawn reports that the individual arrested by security forces was the prime suspect in connection with the deadly March 22 blasts in Brussels.
The Derniere Heure, a French-language daily newspaper published in Brussels, on Wednesday denied earlier reports that the key suspect was in Anderlecht District of the capital.
“Arrested man in Anderlecht is not Najim Laachraoui,” the newspaper said on its Twitter account.
The RTL broadcaster also withdrew Laachraoui’s detention reports, saying “suspect arrested in Anderlecht was not Najim Laachraoui in the end.”
Belgian media reports said earlier that Laachraoui was arrested by police during a security raid in Brussels. He was the third man pictured in airport CCTV footage alongside two bombers who blew themselves up at the airport on Tuesday.
Police identified two of the other attackers as brothers, named Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. Ibrahim set off one of the two bombs that caused twin explosions at Brussels Airport, also known as Zaventem International Airport.
His brother Khalid blew himself up on a carriage of the Brussels metro at Maelbeek station, Brussels prosecutor, Frederic Van Leeuw, said on Wednesday
The brothers have been linked to Salah Abdeslam, the main surviving suspect in the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, where 130 people were killed.
Belgian authorities arrested Abdeslam in Brussels on March 18.
The twin blasts at Brussels Airport and another at a metro station close to the European Union headquarters in the Belgian capital left at least 34 people dead and 250 others wounded.
The Takfiri Daesh terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Frederic Van Leeuw, the Belgian federal prosecutor, said at a press conference in Brussels Wednesday, “A photo (above) showing the three suspects (at the airport) was published. The perpetrator in the middle of the photo who is one of the two suicide bombers has been identified by his fingerprints. It is Ibrahim El Bakraoui, born in Brussels on October 9, 1986 and of Belgian nationality. The second suicide bomber, on the left of the photo, has not yet been identified. The third suspect in a light jacket and wearing a hat is on the run.”
Belgium is observing three days of mourning over the carnage. A minute of silence was also observed for the victims on Wednesday.
Arnaud Feist, the airport chief executive said the Brussels Airport will remain closed Thursday, adding, “There will be no passenger flights into and out of Brussels airport tomorrow March 24.”
The bombings in Brussels have also led to intensified security measures elsewhere across Europe.
European police departments have stepped up security at airports, in capitals and major cities including London, Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam.
Erdogan: Turkey deported one of Brussels attackers in 2015
In a separate development, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that one of the attackers in the Brussels suicide bombings had been deported from Turkey last June.
Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, Erdogan noted that following the deportation, Ankara had warned Brussels that he was a militant, adding that the man was deported to the Netherlands at his own request and Turkey also notified Dutch authorities.
“One of the Brussels attackers was detained in Gaziantep (in southern Turkey close to the Syrian border) and then deported” to Belgium, Erdogan said.
He added that the Belgian authorities had failed to confirm the suspect’s links to terrorism “despite our warnings” following his deportation.
Unprecedented refugee influx vs. Western Mideast policies
Europe is facing a massive flow of refugees who are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.
Many blame the support for militants by Western powers and their regional allies as the main reason behind the unprecedented exodus of the refugees from their home countries.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday reminded European countries of the “urgent” need to tighten controls on the European Union borders.
“There is an urgent need to strengthen the external borders of the European Union,” he told French radio.
Valls said the EU needs to stop people crossing into Europe with false passports, as Daesh has “stolen a large number of passports in Syria.”