Belgium names suicide bomber brothers
Belgium’s federal prosecutor named Ibrahim El Bakraoui as one of two men who blew themselves up at Brussels airport on Tuesday, while his brother Khalid struck a crowded metro train in coordinated blasts that left 34 dead and around 270 injured.
“The third man is on the run,” prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said of a man seen on CCTV pushing a trolley through Zaventem Airport alongside the two suicide bombers, shortly before the attacks claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
“He left his bag with the biggest bomb in it which exploded later because it was so unstable,” Van Leeuw told a press conference, adding that police had found a massive stash of explosives in a Brussels apartment.
Belgian investigators have unleashed a dragnet, releasing CCTV images of the three airport attackers — with the second suicide bomber and the third man, on the run, still unidentified.
Brussels airport will remain closed on Thursday, its chief executive said. “There will be no passenger flights into and out of Brussels airport tomorrow March 24,” Arnaud Feist said in a tweet on Wednesday as the probe into the attacks continued. The departure hall was completely wrecked, with part of the ceiling collapsing down as passengers waiting to check-in struggled out of the smoke-filled building in panic and fear.
Belgium stood still at noon to mark a minute’s silence for the victims of the carnage that left bodies strewn across the airport’s departures hall and a train at Maalbeek station, near the European Union’s headquarters.
Police had already been hunting the Bakraoui brothers, both Belgian nationals, over their links to Salah Abdeslam, the key suspect in the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead, who was arrested in Brussels on Friday after four months on the run.
The attackers’ link to Abdeslam — who told investigators he was planning an attack on Brussels — has underscored fears about Europe’s struggle to combat homegrown terrorism.
Van Leeuw revealed that airport bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui had left a desperate “will” on a computer that he dumped in a trash can on the street, in which he said he was being “hunted everywhere”.
“I don’t know what to do,” the letter read. And in an apparent reference to the Paris attacker Abdeslam, he added: “I don’t want to end up in a cell next to him.”
Investigators had found an unexploded bomb, an IS flag and bomb-making materials in an apartment on the same street in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek on Tuesday night.
The find also included 15 kilos (33 pounds) of TATP high explosive, Van Leeuw confirmed.
Authorities are under heavy pressure over their apparent inability to undermine jihadist networks in Belgium, Europe’s top exporter of jihadist fighters to Syria per capita.
Meanwhile, Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in southern France was evacuated for security reasons, reports on social media suggest. Even passengers on board planes reportedly had to disembark. The airport was reportedly closed at approximately 6:45 am local time (0545 GMT). Later reports on Twitter said that the evacuation was over and that people were going back to the airport building. The airport later released a statement that its terminals have been reopened and that “air traffic is gradually resuming.”
Police patrols and military have been deployed in the airport, France Bleu newspaper reported.
Police said passengers were evacuated from a terminal at Atlanta’s airport after a bomb squad investigated a suspicious package, but airport officials said operations have returned to normal.
Woman in now-iconic image has been identified
The woman photographed in the aftermath of the attacks has been identified as Nidhi Chaphekar, 45. She is a flight attendant for Jet Airways. A photo of the mother-of-two taken after the attacks shows her face covered in blood and dust, with her uniform ripped apart by the blast. On the seat next to hear, another woman makes a phone call, her hand covered in blood. Two Jet Airways crew members — Nidhi Chaphekar and Amit Motwanai — were injured in the explosions. Sushma Swaraj tweeted: “We are coordinating with @jetairways on alternate plans to evacuate our citizens.”