Belgium Prosecutor Confirms Brothers Were Suicide Bombers

Airport bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui had left will on computer; one of the men captured on CCTV at the airport with him identified as Najim Laachraoui.

The brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui.
Screenshot

Two brothers carried out suicide bombings at Brussels airport and on the metro on Tuesday, the federal prosecutor confirmed on Wednesday, adding that airport bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui had left a will on a computer that was found.

His brother Khalid blew himself up on a carriage of the Brussels metro at Maelbeek station, Frederic Van Leeuw told a news conference. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Belgian media reported that one of the men captured on CCTV at the airport with Ibrahim was identified as Najim Laachraoui. Belgium's De Standaard newspaper has since confirmed his identity. The third man seen in the CCTV footage remains unidentified and is still being sought.

Laachraoui, 24, is also wanted in connection with the attacks that took place in Paris in November. His DNA was found on almost all of the explosives belts used in those attacks and at a Brussels hideout used last week by prime Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last Friday after a shoot-out with police. Sky News reported that Laachraoui has been identified as an ISIS bombmaker.

Both El Bakraoui brothers had criminal records but had not previously been linked by investigators to Islamist militants.

RTBF said Khalid El Bakraoui had rented under a false name the apartment in the city's Forest borough, where police hunting Abdeslam killed a gunman in a raid last week. He is also believed to have rented a safe house in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi used to mount last November's Paris attacks.

Najim Laachraoui

The death toll in the attacks on the Belgian capital, home to the European Union and NATO, rose to at least 31 with some 260 wounded, Health Minister Maggie De Block said on VRT television. It could rise further because some of the bomb victims at Maelbeek metro station were blown to pieces and victims are hard to identify.

The Syrian-based Islamist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, four days after Abdeslam's arrest in Brussels, warning of "black days" for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels has long been a center of Islamist militancy.

Security review

The attacks sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport, and rekindled debate about European security cooperation and police methods.

Prime Minister Charles Michel cancelled a trip to China and convened his inner cabinet to discuss security. Belgium was to observe a nationwide minute's silence at noon (1100 GMT), with King Philippe, the premier and leaders of European Union institutions attending an outdoor memorial event in Brussels' European district.

The Brussels blasts fueled political debate across the globe about how to combat militants.

"We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world," said U.S. President Barack Obama.

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to succeed Obama in November's U.S. election, suggested suspects could be tortured to avert such attacks.

Police searched an apartment in the northern Brussels borough of Schaerbeek late into the night, finding another bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making chemicals.

Local media said authorities had followed a tip from a taxi driver who may have driven the bombers to the airport.

Three men who are suspected of taking part in the attacks at Belgium's Zaventem Airport. The man at right is still being sought by the police, while the two others were suicide bombers.
AFP

An unused explosive device was later found at the airport and a man wearing a light-colored jacket and a hat was seen running away from the terminal after the explosions.

Closing in

Security experts believed the blasts, which killed about 20 people on a metro train running through the area that houses EU institutions, were probably in preparation before Friday's arrest of locally based French national Abdeslam, 26, whom prosecutors accuse of a key role in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

He was caught and has been speaking to investigators after a shootout at an apartment in the south of the city a week ago, after which another Islamic State flag and explosives were found. It was unclear whether he had knowledge of the new attack or whether accomplices may have feared police were closing in.

Islamic State said in a statement that "caliphate soldiers, strapped with suicide vests and carrying explosive devices and machineguns" struck Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station.

It was not clear, however, that the attackers used vests. The suspects were photographed pushing bags on trolleys, and witnesses said many of the airport dead and wounded were hit mostly in the legs, possibly indicating blasts at floor level.

The two men in dark clothes wore gloves on their left hands only. One security expert speculated they might have concealed detonators. The man in the hat was not wearing gloves.

About 300 Belgians are estimated to have fought with Islamists in Syria, making the country of 11 million the leading European exporter of foreign fighters and a focus of concern in France and other neighbors over its security capabilities.

Reviving arguments over Belgian policies following the Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed in an operation apparently organized from Brussels, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin spoke of "naiveté" on the part of "certain leaders" in holding back from security crackdowns on Muslim communities.

Belgian military personnel and police stand guard around the Central Station following coordinated attacks at the city's airport and metro system, Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.
AFP

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders retorted that each country should look to its own social problems, saying France too had rough high-rise suburbs in which militants had become radicalized.

Life began to return to normal in Brussels on Wednesday, with some public transport working and cars returning to the European district, but the metro system remained closed and the airport was still shut to travelers.