ISTANBUL • One of the attackers in the Brussels suicide bombings was deported from Turkey twice last year and the authorities warned their European counterparts that they suspected him of being a militant fighter, according to two Turkish officials.
The first official said yesterday that Ibrahim el-Bakraoui's initial deportation in July had been based on police suspicions that he was a militant fighter but that he had committed no crime in Turkey. The official described his expulsion as an "administrative deportation".
"The police were looking at him and came to the conclusion that he may be a foreign fighter. He was picked up in (the southern town of) Gaziantep," said the official, declining to be named because of the sensitivities of the case.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Ibrahim had been deported to the Netherlands at the latter's request on July 14 last year and that Belgium had subsequently ignored a warning that he was a militant.
Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said he was aware that the man had been sent to the Netherlands from Turkey, but denied that he had been flagged as a possible terrorist.
Ibrahim is one of two brothers named by Belgium as responsible for the attacks that killed at least 31 people in Brussels on Tuesday and were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. Both brothers are believed to have died in the attacks.
The second Turkish government official told Reuters that Ibrahim had entered Turkey for a second time on Aug 11 through the Antalya airport on the Mediterranean coast and was again deported two weeks later, on Aug 25.
The official did not specify where he was deported to on the second occasion.
Turkey's pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said Turkish police had detained Ibrahim after ascertaining that he planned to go to conflict areas in Syria.
The newspaper also said that his brother, Khalid, had entered Turkey on Nov 4, 2014, through Istanbul's Ataturk airport and was monitored by security forces before leaving the country again 10 days later. That, the newspaper said, was more than a year before Belgium issued a notice for his arrest.
Concern that the security and intelligence officials of Belgium, a small European nation, are overwhelmed have come to the fore following the ISIS-claimed attacks.
Several US officials say that security cooperation has been hampered by patchy intelligence-sharing by Brussels and wide differences in the willingness of different agencies to work with foreign countries, even close allies.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE