BRUSSELS (AFP) – A Belgian Taekwondo champion who is the younger brother of suspected Brussels airport attacker Najim Laachraoui, on Thursday “firmly” condemned his sibling’s involvement in the deadly attacks.
Mourad Laachraoui said he had been levelled upon learning his brother was believed to be one of the suicide bombers who had killed 31 people and wounded some 300 in the Belgian capital.
“I was moved and stunned. I didn’t want to believe it was him, but you can’t choose your family,” he told a press conference.
Mourad Laachraoui said there had been no contact between the pair since his older brother left Belgium for Syria more than two years ago.
He described a fairly normal young man and practising Muslim, who had shocked the family by descending into Islamic radicalisation.
“He was a nice boy, and especially intelligent,” the younger brother added. “He played a bit of football, he read.”
Najim Laachraoui has been identified by police sources as the second suicide bomber at Brussels airport on Tuesday, and was the suspected bomb-maker for the November carnage in Paris in which 130 people died.
“Mourad Laachraoui firmly condemns the actions of his older brother and the attacks in which he was involved in France and in Belgium,” according to a statement he released earlier on Thursday.
He represented Belgium at the last world championships, which were held in May 2015 in Russia. In July he won a silver medal in the Universiades, an international university-level competition that took place in South Korea.
Najim Laachraoui, 24, was captured on CCTV footage at the airport with Ibrahim El Bakraoui and another assailant who is the subject of a massive manhunt after his bomb did not go off and he fled the scene.
At least 11 people were killed in the attack on Brussels airport. Shortly afterwards a bomb attack on the Brussels metro left around 20 more people dead.
Investigators have found traces of Laachraoui’s DNA on explosives used in the Paris gun and suicide bomb assaults, including at the Bataclan rock venue where 90 people died.
DNA traces were also found in a rural Belgian hideout used on the eve of the Paris attacks, as well as in a suspected bomb factory in the Schaarbeek district of Brussels.
Moroccan-born Laachraoui grew up in the Brussels area of Schaarbeek and had been wanted by police over the Paris attacks since December, though by a false identity that was only unmasked last week.
Laachraoui went to Syria in September 2013 in one of the first waves of jihadists to leave Belgium for the war-torn country, where he fought under the Islamic State nom de guerre Abu Idriss, according to media reports.
In February, a Belgian court convicted him in absentia for his involvement with IS.
He was known to have returned to Europe in September when he was checked by police under a false identity in a Mercedes driven by Abdeslam, who now sits behind bars in Belgium.