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 man 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.”
Belgium has declared three days of mourning and yesterday hundreds of airport staff and their families carried candles and flowers in a silent march and vigil near Zaventem.
“It could have happened to me,” said security guard Gregory Lupant, adding he was worried about colleagues “who had not been heard from, and others who had lost a leg or finger.”
Earlier in the day, King Philippe, Prime Minister Charles Michel and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker led a minute’s silence outside the EU headquarters in Brussels, the city that is also home to NATO.
In the city’s Place de la Bourse, where mourners have laid banners and candles, defiant applause broke out among the large crowd gathered to honour the dead, chanting: “Long live Belgium”.
But the attacks have raised troubling new questions about Belgium’s ability to handle the jihadist threat, already under scrutiny after it emerged that the Paris attacks were largely planned in Belgium.