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Police still looking for third Brussels attacks suspect

Belgian police on Wednesday arrested a key suspect linked to the attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people while two brothers were identified as the suspected Islamic State suicide bombers who targeted the airport and a metro station in the city.

world Updated: Mar 23, 2016 20:43 IST
Brussels airport attack

Najim Laachraoui is believed to be the man wearing a cap in the picture of three suspects released by Belgian authorities on Tuesday.(Reuters Photo)

Authorities in Brussels said they were still searching for a third airport bombing suspect they after two brothers were identified as the suspected Islamic State suicide bombers who targeted the airport and a metro station in the city.

Belgian media earlier reported Najim Laachraoui, 24, was arrested by a special unit on suspicion of involvement in the two bombings on Tuesday. The report, however, was later withdrawn.

The report said Laachraoui was believed to be the man wearing a cap in the picture of three suspects released by Belgian authorities on Tuesday. Earlier, his DNA was found on explosive materials used in the Paris attacks of November 2015.

Read: 2 Brussels suspects identified as brothers, Paris attacker link found

State broadcaster RTBF, citing a police source, named the two suspected bombers as Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, both residents of Brussels and known to the security services for organised crime.

Ibrahim blew himself up at Zaventem airport, while his brother Khalid was the suicide bomber who targeted the Maalbeek metro station. Ibrahim is believed to be the man in the middle of the photo of three suspects released on Tuesday.

Over 30 people were killed at the airport and the metro station, and some 260 others were injured in the two attacks.

The Bakraoui brothers were also linked to the Paris attacks of November 2015 that killed 130 people, RTBF reported. Using a false name, Khalid had rented an apartment in the Forest borough of Brussels, where police hunting key suspect Salah Abdeslam killed a gunman in a raid last week.

Abdeslam was arrested on Friday and reports have suggested that Tuesday’s bombings were carried out in retaliation.

State broadcaster RTBF, citing a police source, named the two suspected bombers as Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, both residents of Brussels and known to the security services for organised crime. (DR/Interpol)

Khalid was also linked to a hideout at Charleroi that was used by terrorists while preparing for the Paris attacks. The brothers were also linked to the terrorist cell of which Abdeslam was a member.

Read: Ukraine leader says can’t rule out Russia’s role in Brussels attacks

The three suspects, including the Bakraoui brothers, were captured by security cameras before they struck at the airport. The Islamic State claimed responsibility hours after the three blasts.

Brussels police searched a house in the north of the city late into Tuesday night, turning up another bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making chemicals in an apartment in the borough of Schaerbeek.

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

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.

The Brussels blasts also fuelled political debate about how to combat militants.

Read: Children thought fireworks as blood, smoke covered Brussels victims

“We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world,” said US President Barack Obama.

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

The Islamic State warned 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 centre of Islamist militancy.

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

(An earlier version of this story quoted the Belgian media as saying that the third Brussels attacks suspect had been arrested. The story was modified to remove this information after the local media withdrew the report.)