Three suicide bombers who struck Brussels airport and a metro train in attacks claimed by the Islamic State have been identified, as the manhunt for a fourth suspect whose suitcase bomb failed to detonate intensified.
Prosecutors said brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui had carried out attacks at Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station, while bomb-making expert Najim Laachraoui was identified by police sources as the second airport bomber.
Authorities yesterday stepped up the manhunt for a third airport attacker, seen wearing a hat and white jacket on CCTV footage from Zaventem departure hall, whose explosive-packed suitcase failed to go off with the two other suicide bombers.
The three identified suspects behind the twin assaults, which killed 31 and injured 300, have been linked to the Paris attacks last November, underscoring the threat European nations face from the jihadist group.
Turkey said it had detained Ibrahim El Bakraoui near the Syrian border in June 2015 and deported him as a “foreign terrorist fighter”, piling more pressure on Belgian authorities who have faced criticism for failing to tackle the extremist menace.
Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw revealed that Ibrahim had left a desperate “will” on a computer that he dumped in a trash can, in which he said he felt “hunted” and added “I don’t know what to do”.
In an apparent reference to Salah Abdeslam, the key suspect in the Paris massacre arrested in Brussels on Friday, Ibrahim added: “I don’t want to end up in a cell next to him.”
EU justice and interior ministers will convene today in Brussels for an emergency meeting to work out a plan to address the threat posed by jihadists to Europe and the application of EU anti-terrorism laws across the bloc.
Leaders in Europe have reacted with outrage to the twin bombings, vowing to defend democracy and combat terrorism “with all means necessary”.
Belgium authorities are under immense pressure over their apparent inability to smash domestic extremist networks, after it emerged that the Paris attacks were largely planned from the country.
Belgium is also Europe’s top exporter of jihadist fighters to Syria per capita.
Belgian authorities had already been hunting the Bakraoui brothers, both Belgian nationals with long criminal records, over their links to Paris attack suspect Abdeslam.
They also issued a wanted notice for Laachraoui on Monday, the day before the attacks, with officials saying he had travelled to Hungary with Abdeslam last year and that his DNA was found on explosives linked to the Paris rampage.