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Manhunt For Brussels Attacks Suspects Enters Second Day

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/03/2016 Alana Horowitz Satlin
ATHENA IMAGE © Handout via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

  • Police are searching for a man seen in CCTV footage wearing a white jacket.
  • Two of the suspected attackers were brothers with criminal records.
  • At least 32 people were killed in Tuesday's attacks.  

Belgian authorities on Wednesday stepped up the manhunt for a key suspect in the worst terror attacks in the country’s history.

Four men on Tuesday attacked Brussels’ main airport and a train station in the capital, killing at least 32 people and injuring about 260 others. The self-described Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Belgian prosecutors confirmed on Wednesday that they had been able to identify two of the three suicide bombers as Belgian brothers Khalid and Ibrahim  El Bakraoui. The third suicide bomber has not yet been identified. Authorities believe a fourth suspect, whose image was captured on CCTV at the airport, was able to escape and are continuing a nationwide manhunt for him that started on Tuesday.

Police conducted raids across the country and asked the media not to report any specific details of the searches. 

The Hunt Is On

Fingerprints found at the crime scene in the Maelbeek subway station allowed investigators to identify Khalid El Bakraoui , 27, as the terrorist who blew himself up in the second car of a train leaving the station.

Khalid’s brother, Ibrahim, 29, was identified as one of the two suicide bombers at the airport.

On Tuesday, police had released a still of security camera footage showing three men at the airport, indicating they were considered suspects. The man on the left, still unidentified, is thought to be the third suicide bomber. Ibrahim El Bakraoui is the man in the middle. 

The suspect on the right, in the white jacket, is still on the run. He left the largest quantity of explosives at the airport in a backpack, but they never detonated.

Several media outlets identified  the man in the white jacket as Najim Laachroui, a 24-year-old Belgian national who was born in Morocco, but Belgian authorities have not yet confirmed that.

Local  media early Wednesday reported Laachroui had been detained in Brussels. However, Belgian prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt later denied this.

Belgian media said that Laachraoui knew Salah Abdeslam, the suspect in the November 2015 Paris attacks who was arrested in Brussels last week. 

Police had been searching for Laachraoui, who they say may have made suicide vests used in the Paris attacks. His DNA was found on suicide vests in a Brussels apartment connected to other terrorists, a French police official told The Associated Press.

Laachroui had traveled to Syria in 2013 to help recruit fighters for the Islamic State group, authorities said .

Bomber Brothers Had Criminal Records

The El Bakraoui brothers were well known to Belgian authorities, though more for their criminal records than their extremist beliefs.

Belgian newspaper De Standaard reports that Ibrahim El Bakraoui was believed to have taken part in the violent robbery of a currency exchange office in January 2010. Khalid El Bakraoui was convicted in 2011 for a series of carjackings.

The newspaper adds that Khalid El Bakraoui had reportedly rented an apartment in Brussels that was raided last week as part of the probe into the Paris attacks.

Belgian police searched the apartment in Brussels' Forest neighborhood last Tuesday, looking for clues about the Paris suspects’ locations. They believed the apartment was empty, and were taken by surprise when inhabitants opened fire, wounding four officers.

Mohamed Belkaid, a 35-year-old Algerian suspected of aiding in the Paris attacks , was killed in the raid. Belgian officials said at least two suspects fled the scene . Police found weapons, ammunition and an ISIS flag at the scene, as well as the DNA of Salah Abdeslam, who was previously thought to be in Syria.

Abdeslam was finally captured on Friday, after a four-month manhunt. Police tracked his location using cell phone data and descended on an apartment in Brussels' Molenbeek neighborhood — just 300 meters from the home he grew up in.

In addition to the Forest connection, Khalid El Bakraoui was also allegedly involved in renting a safe house in Charleroi, Belgium, used by the Paris plotters. “If the information about the brothers is right, than there is an official link between the attacks in Paris and those in Brussels,” De Standaard said.

"Always On The Run"

Prosecutors said on Wednesday that investigators found what may be a will written by Ibrahim El Bakraoui in the trash during a raid in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek.

The note read: “ Always on the run, not knowing what to do anymore, being looked for everywhere, not being safe any longer and that if he waits around any longer he risks ending up next to the person in a cell."

At the Schaerbeek apartment, investigators also found chemicals, an improvised explosive device loaded with nails and an ISIS flag.

A taxi driver who had taken the suspects to the airport on Tuesday led police to the apartment. The driver became suspicious after his passengers prevented him from helping to carry their luggage.

Victims From Around The World

Belgian officials were still working to identify the victims of Tuesday’s blasts. Belgian Police Chief Catherine de Bolle said that the extent of the victims’ injuries made identification difficult.

The victims c ame from all over the world, with around 40 different nationalities represented among those killed and injured, Belgian Health Minister Maggie de Block said on Wednesday. One of the first victims named was Adelma Marina Tapia Ruíz, a Peruvian-Belgian mother of two, the Peruvian government said. She was on her way to New York to visit her mother.

Belgium observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m. local time to honor the victims of the tragedy. 

Vice President Joe Biden offered support during a visit to the Belgian Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. He told the Belgian ambassador to the U.S., Johan Verbeke, that America would “provide any and all information, capability, technology, anything we have that can be value-added to their fight. And they will prevail.”

A spokesman for the State Department said Wednesday that some Americans who may have been present during the attacks were still unaccounted for. Eight Americans are known to have been injured, including three young Mormon missionaries and a U.S. Air Force officer.

Relatives of Justin and Stephanie Shults, an American husband and wife living in Brussels, told NBC News that they hadn’t been able to track the couple down.

Charlotte Alfred contributed reporting. 

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

Read More: 

For additional coverage in French, visit Le Huffington Post and their live blog; For coverage in German, visit HuffPost Germany; For coverage in Spanish, visit HuffPost Spain; For coverage in Arabic, visit HuffPost Arabi.

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