Brussels attacks: what we know so far

24th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Belgian police are hunting two men suspected of involvement in the Brussels bombings as investigators gradually piece together the bloody events in Europe's symbolic capital.

This is what we know so far about Tuesday's suicide attacks at Brussels airport and a metro station that left 31 people dead and 300 wounded and were claimed by the Islamic State group.

- Airport bombings -

The first suicide bomber struck at 7:58 am (0658 GMT) in the departure hall at Zaventem airport, followed nine seconds later by a second bomber, federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said.

Both men had been captured moments before on security cameras pushing trolleys with dark bags through the busy airport.

A man wearing a dark hat and white jacket walking next to them is believed to be a third assailant whose bomb failed to go off and who fled the scene.

The bombs killed and maimed many, causing part of the terminal building's ceiling to cave in and shattering windows.

As bomb defusal experts arrived later, a third explosion tore through the evacuated airport but wounded no-one.

The bomb was in an abandoned bag and contained more explosives than the other two bags, suggesting many more people could have died had it detonated earlier.

- Metro attack -

Just after 9 am, a suicide bomber struck in Maalbeek metro station, just a few hundred metres from the main EU offices and many diplomatic missions.

The explosion ripped apart a train in the station, and witnesses said they saw clouds of smoke and dust coming out of the station, with many people lying by the road with bloodied faces and limbs.

- Casualty toll -

The heath ministry said Wednesday 31 people had been killed and 300 wounded, a toll that could rise further with 61 in critical condition.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said around 40 nationalities were among the dead and wounded, but the process of identifying the victims is slow.

They included citizens of Britain, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Portugal and the United States, as well as several staff from the EU's executive arm, the European Commission.

- Suspects identified -

Following fingerprint analysis, the prosecutor Wednesday named Belgian national Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, as one of the airport bombers -- one of the three men seen pushing trolleys.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government had deported Bakraoui as a "foreign terrorist fighter" and informed the Belgian authorities, who later released him.

Turkey had also accused France of failing to heed its warnings about Omar Ismail Mostefai, one of the jihadists who blew himself up at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November.

Police identified the second airport bomber as Moroccan-born Najim Laachraoui, said to be a top IS bombmaker who had fought for the group in Syria and whose DNA was found on explosives used in Paris.

Bakraoui's younger brother Khalid El Bakraoui was named as the metro bomber, also following fingerprint analysis.

Van Leeuw said the brothers had criminal records "not linked to terrorism", with Khalid a convicted car jacker and Ibrahim sentenced to nine years in prison for firing a gun at police.

Prosecutors said Khalid rented properties in the Belgian city of Charleroi from where alleged Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud set off to lead the assault in the French capital.

A taxi driver who drove three passengers to Brussels airport -- possibly the men in the security camera images -- led police to carry out a raid Tuesday in the Brussels neighbourhood of Schaarbeek.

There, investigators found an unexploded bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making materials.

Prosecutors said they found 15 kilos (33 pounds) of TATP high explosives as well as chemicals, detonators, a suitcase full of nails and other equipment including plastic trays, tools and ventilator.

In a nearby trash can, police found a computer containing a message by Ibrahim El Bakraoui, in which he said he was rushing into action because police were hunting him and he did not want to end up in a jail cell.

- Manhunt -

Belgian police are searching for the man appearing in the airport security footage next to Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

The prosecutor said the suspect -- dressed in a hat and white jacket and wearing glasses -- fled before the blast.

"He left his bag with the biggest bomb in it which exploded later because it was so unstable," Van Leeuw said.

Police are also seeking a second suspect over the metro attack after sources said a man with a large bag was seen on CCTV footage at Maalbeek station.

Another source said Bakraoui was seen talking to a man who did not get into the train carriage with him.

The bombings took place just four days after the arrest in Brussels of key Paris attacks suspect, Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, after four months on the run.

His lawyer said Thursday that Abdeslam "didn't know" about the Brussels attacks and that he wanted to be extradited as quickly as possible to France.

© 2016 AFP

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