Brussels attacks

Two bombers identified were brothers

Troops searching people entering a subway station in Brussels yesterday. The Belgian capital was in a lockdown for most of Tuesday.
Troops searching people entering a subway station in Brussels yesterday. The Belgian capital was in a lockdown for most of Tuesday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Of the three men caught on airport CCTV cameras, only Ibrahim el-Bakraoui has been identified, as the man in the middle.
Of the three men caught on airport CCTV cameras, only Ibrahim el-Bakraoui has been identified, as the man in the middle.PHOTO: REUTERS

They were known criminals but never linked to terror activities, one of them left a desperate will

A day after terrorists conducted a coordinated attack on Brussels, the police and state prosecutors identified two of the suicide bombers as brothers, one of whom left a desperate will on a computer found dumped in a trash can.

Two other attackers caught on an airport closed-circuit television camera were not identified and the authorities said that a manhunt had been launched for one of them who is believed to be on the run.

The brothers who blew themselves up along with their innocent victims were Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. They had been known to the police for their criminal activities, but had never been linked to terrorist activities.

Ibrahim detonated a bomb in the check-in hall of Zaventem airport while Khalid attacked a metro train at Maalbeek station near the European Union headquarters, Belgium's federal prosecutor Frederic van Leeuw told a news conference in Brussels yesterday.

Mr Van Leeuw said that Ibrahim's "will" said he was "in a rush", and "I don't know what to do... hunted everywhere... no longer safe", adding that "I don't want to end up in a cell next to him". That appeared to be a reference to Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, who is reportedly linked to the Bakraoui brothers, and was captured in Belgium last week, AFP reported.

Ibrahim wrote the will on a computer found in a trash can in the same street in the Schaarbeek district where investigators found an unexploded bomb, bomb-making materials and an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) flag on Tuesday.

The toll from the two attacks was 31 dead and 270 wounded, Mr Van Leeuw also confirmed.

Belgian police are hunting for one more man - not identified - who is thought to have escaped, possibly after his device failed to explode.

Media excitement peaked earlier when Belgian media reported that suspect Najim Laachraoui - one of three men thought to have been captured on airport CCTV footage of the suicide bombers - had been arrested. But Belgian media later retracted the report, and Mr Van Leeuw said only Ibrahim had been identified, as the man in the middle of the trio in the photo.

The police were led to a house in north-east Brussels by a taxi driver who saw a photo released of the men captured on CCTV at the airport and recognised them as the passengers he had taken there on Tuesday morning.

He said they had many large bags, not all of which could fit in the car. In the end, they left one bag behind.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks, which forced the Belgian capital into a lockdown for most of Tuesday and sent its European neighbours into high alert, tightening security around airports and key sites.

Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon said that even on high alert, the authorities cannot be expected to prevent all the terror attacks being hatched in their midst.

''We are fighting against professionals,'' he told RTL radio yesterday. ''Sometimes we have situations like yesterday. Zero risk doesn't exist.''

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Two bombers identified were brothers '. Print Edition | Subscribe