Belgium's lawmakers to probe failure to avert Brussels attacks

The broken entrance doors to the departure hall of the Brussels airport, on April 22, 2016.
The broken entrance doors to the departure hall of the Brussels airport, on April 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Lawmakers paying their respect in tribute to the victims of the Brussels terror attacks, during a visit of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission of the Federal Parliament at the Brussels Airport of Zaventem, on April 22, 2016.
Lawmakers paying their respect in tribute to the victims of the Brussels terror attacks, during a visit of the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission of the Federal Parliament at the Brussels Airport of Zaventem, on April 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Belgian lawmakers vowed on Friday (April 21) to probe how Belgium failed to thwart the Brussels bombings months after attacks in Paris, as they visited a targeted metro station before it reopens next week.

The Parliament's commission of inquiry visited the two scenes of last month's attacks - Maalbeek station and Brussels Airport - as part of a mission to shed light by year-end on the attacks in both capitals that were allegedly carried out by the same Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cell.

The panel wants to find out "the way in which Belgium had prepared since the (November) Paris attacks to try to avoid the same tragedy", panel member Laurette Onkelex said.

It must "shed light eventually on responsibilities, but also make recommendations and improve our security architecture", Ms Onkelex said.

Brussels public transport service spokesman Francoise Ledune told AFP that Maelbeek Station will resume service Monday from 6am until 10pm, like the rest of the network, which is still closing two hours earlier than previously.

Maelbeek Station has been closed since Khalid El-Bakraoui detonated a bomb at 9.11am on March 22 that killed 16 people on a train, part of coordinated suicide attacks that hit the airport in the Zaventem neighbourhood just over an hour earlier.

A total of 32 people died in the bombings and hundreds more were wounded.

One of the station's eight tiled portraits by artist Benoit van Innis remains damaged and will be covered up. The same artist is now working on a project to commemorate the massacre that is due to be completed in June, Ms Ledune said.

"In the meantime, we plan to set aside a remembrance wall where people can leave messages, words of hope," she added.

Officials quoted by the media said trains resumed service on Friday to Brussels Airport, which the authorities had halted because of the damaged terminal.

Brussels Airport is set to resume full operations in June after it was closed to passengers for 12 days following the attack and then began gradually to restore service.

The parliamentary commission met airport staff during their visit on Friday. "It was very moving. Some were in tears," centrist politician Georges Dallemagne said.

The airport bombings were carried out by Khalid's brother Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui - the alleged bombmaker for the Nov 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.

Laachraoui has also been identified by several Frenchmen held hostage by ISIS in Syria as one of their prison guards, sources close to the investigation said.

Police earlier this month arrested Mohamed Abrini, who confessed to being the "man in the hat" caught on video with the two airport bombers and who allegedly was preparing to detonate a third bomb before fleeing the scene.

The authorities have also arrested Swedish national Osama Krayem and charged him in connection with both the Brussels and Paris attacks.

He was filmed on CCTV talking to Khalid El Bakraoui minutes before the bomb went off.

The government announced it would build a statue similar to a war memorial for the people who died in the Brussels attacks.

It will also provide financial aid to victims and their families, including covering lifetime medical expenses for those injured.