Evidence of link to Paris attacks mounting
SEVEN people have been arrested in a series of raids in connection with the bombings at Brussels Airport and subway station earlier this week, according to Belgian prosecutors.
The attacks involved three explosions in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, that killed at least 31 and wounded about 270. They were found to have been conducted by two brothers and a suicide bomber linked to the Paris attacks in November.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, and his brother Khalid, 27, were Belgian nationals both known to authorities for previous crimes, USA Today reported. El Bakraoui carried out a suicide attack at Brussels Airport. Agence France-Presse reported that 24-year-old Najim Laachraoui, a Belgian who was linked to the Paris attacks in November, was confirmed by police sources as the second suicide bomber at the airport, where blasts occurred at around 8 am.
Khalid blew himself up at the Maelbeek metro station near the European Union (EU) headquarters at around 9 am.
The identity of a man who accompanied two of the bombers at Brussels Airport was formerly unknown, but ABC News reported that authorities now believe they have identified him, according to an unnamed US official. The name was not released but it was already in US terrorism databases when the bombings occurred, the news agency reported.
Among other developments, The New York Times reported that top Belgian officials on Thursday, March 24, acknowledged errors they made prior to the attacks in Brussels, including not responding to a Turkish alert about Ibrahim El-Bakraoui, who was briefly arrested in Turkey in 2015 for suspicion of terrorist activity. Khalid, similarly, was wanted since December in connection with the Paris attacks, according to the Times.
Growing evidence of links between the Brussels and Paris attacks by the Islamic State exists, suggesting a wide network of trained attackers tracing back to Syria is now in Europe, the Times reported.
In Germany, another two people were arrested during investigations into the Brussels suicide bombings. In France, authorities say they prevented a militant plot in the country “that was at an advanced stage,” according to CNBC.
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Brussels on Friday, March 25, where he offered assistance in security.
“The United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks,” he said.
US President Barack Obama, who was in Cuba at the time of the attacks as America works toward normalizing relations with the communist country, urged international unity in the battle against terror.
“We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally Belgium in bringing to peace those who are responsible,” he said, according to CNN.
At least two Americans were killed in the bombings, as well as two Dutch citizens, a brother and sister, who planned on becoming American citizens.
Multiple Americans were also injured in the explosions, including three Mormon missionaries, and a US service member and his family, according to the Department of Defense.
Adelma Tapia Ruiz, a Peruvian mother of twins, was the first victim identified from the attacks. Other confirmed deaths are Belgian law student Leopold Hecht and a man named Oliver Delespesse, CNN reported.
A Chinese national was also reported to have been killed, according to the Chinese Embassy in Belgium.
Fourteen people were killed at the airport and 20 at the metro station.
Taxi driver helps with investigations
After the attacks, a taxi driver tipped authorities to a house in Schaerbeek, a municipality of Brussels, where they found nearly 33 pounds of explosives and about 40 gallons of chemicals used to create an explosive called TATP.
Authorities also found a computer in a trash can containing Ibrahim’s will.
“Being in a hurry, I don’t know what to do, being searched for everywhere, not being safe. If it drags on it could end up with me in a prison cell next to him,” El Bakraoui wrote. It was not immediately clear if he was referring to Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week for his involvement in the Paris attacks.
At least one of the bombs used in the attacks, specifically one at the airport, appeared to be stronger than those used in Paris. It blew out a number of windows in the large departure hall and shook nearby buildings, The New York Times reported.
A third bomb at the airport was neutralized “with a controlled action,” said Florence Muls, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Airport.
EU, US respond to attacks
In response to the attacks, Belgium initially raised its terror alert to the highest level. Flights in and out of Brussels Airport are expected to be canceled until at least Saturday, March 26, Mirror Online reported. On Friday, authorities lowered Belgium’s terror threat level by one notch, according to NBC New York. The country is also undergoing three days of mourning.
“What we feared has happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters shortly after the attacks, according to the Los Angeles Times. “In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity.”
Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw called the three blasts in Brussels “terrorist attacks,” according to the Associated Press.
In the United States, airports and transit systems nationwide were placed on heightened alert on Tuesday due to concerns about potential copycat attacks, the LA Times reported. Among these airports include those in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Miami and Philadelphia.
The information contained in this article is accurate as of press time.