Dutch minister misinforms parliament again about Belgium attack intelligence

Dutch Minister of Safety and Justice Ard van der Steur gives a press conference in The Hague on March 24, 2016
Dutch Minister of Safety and Justice Ard van der Steur gives a press conference in The Hague on March 24, 2016PHOTO: AFP

AMSTERDAM (REUTERS) - The Dutch interior minister said on Wednesday (March 30) he had made another factual error in a letter informing parliament that US intelligence warned the authorities about two Belgian brothers a week before the pair carried out the Brussels attacks.

A series of blunders by Belgium's security and intelligence agencies have come to light since the attacks that killed 32 and wounded hundreds last week. It has also exposed weaknesses in communication between intelligence agencies across Europe.

For the Dutch, it is the second mistake in as many days by Interior Minister Ard van der Steur, who was forced on Tuesday to send a correction of his first letter addressed to parliament about the intelligence received on Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui.

In another missive on Wednesday, van der Steur wrote that contrary to what he had said on Tuesday, it was not the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that had warned that two brothers were being sought by Belgian authorities.

The information actually came from the New York Police Department's Intelligence Division and was forwarded by the Dutch embassy liaison in Washington, the minister wrote.

US investigators are helping their European partners unravel the network behind the attacks.

But legislators are demanding to know why Dutch agencies did not act on U.S. intelligence received on March 16 that Ibrahim was sought by the Belgian authorities for "his criminal background", while Khalid was wanted for "terrorism, extremism and recruitment".

Ibrahim was not on international wanted lists when he was put on a flight from Turkey to Amsterdam on July 14, 2015 and disappeared, the minister said on Tuesday.

He was violating conditions of parole in Belgium and avoided potential arrest by requesting that Turkey deport him to the closest neighbouring country, the Netherlands, rather than being sent home. Khalid had been missing since October.

The Brussels attacks, claimed by Islamic State, were carried out by the same network as the Paris attacks in November, in which 131 people died.

Van der Steur said during a parliamentary debate on Tuesday night that the Netherlands had "done all that could have been done" with the information it received.

Belgian federal police denied the minister's assertion that their Dutch counterparts had shared US intelligence about the brothers at a meeting on March 17.

Four men were detained in Rotterdam over the weekend. The main suspect, identified as 32-year-old Frenchman Anis B., wanted by France for allegedly helping prepare an attack that was never carried out, is resisting extradition - a legal process expected to take around three months.

Two others, described as "having an Algerian background", are also being held on terror charges. A fourth has been released without charge.