A week on from the deadly suicide bomb attacks in Brussels, Grasswire takes an in-depth look at the most important information we’ve gathered about events across Belgium: the arrests, the links to the Paris attacks and the information we have so far about the suspects.
Two explosions at airport, one at metro station
At least 32 people were killed after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Belgium Zaventem International Airport and a third at on an underground train Maelbeek metro station on March 22.
On March 26, the Belgian Crisis Center clarified that the 31 bodies recovered from the blast sites included those of the three suicide bombers. It said around 340 people were injured. 101 were being treated in 33 hospital sites; 62 were in intensive care, and 32 in a burns unit.
On March 28, the Crisis Center confirmed four people died from their injuries, bring the total dead to 35, including the three suicide bombers. Seven of the victims have yet to be identified.
On March 25, Belgium’s royal family were shown pieces of metal shrapnel that doctors recovered from some of the victims.
Brussels people began gathering and making a makeshift memorial to the victims of the attacks on the Place de la Bourse on March 22 and every day since. On March 27, around 10 people were arrested after Belgian riot police used water cannons to break up a far-right protest at the memorial.
The airport attack
Two explosions within 10 seconds hit Belgium Zaventem International Airport at 7:58 a.m. as people queued at check in. At least 11 people were killed in the explosions.
A third bomb did not detonate at the time, and the person suspected to have been in control of this device fled.
The Maelbeek metro attack
Just over an hour after the airport explosions, a suicide bomber blew himself up at 9:11 a.m. on an underground train at Maelbeek metro station, very close to the main European Union buildings. The Mayor of Brussels Ivan Mayeur confirmed at least 20 died.
Some people who were on the train and escaped by walking through the tunnel between the Arts-Lois and Maelbeek metro stations.
An airport CCTV image showing three suspects in the bombing was released by police on March 22. Two of the men pictured were suicide bombers, and a manhunt was launched for the third man who fled the scene.
On March 23, the Belgian federal prosecutor named two of the suicide bombers. Ibrahim El Bakraoui bombed the airport and his brother Khalid El Bakraoui attacked the metro train.
The man in the centre of the airport CCTV image is Ibrahim El Bakraoui.
On March 24, police released a sketch of a possible fifth suspect, a man seen talking to Khalid El Bakraoui in the metro shortly before the explosion.
On March 25, prosecutors said Najim Laachraoui, wanted in connection with November’s Paris attacks, had been confirmed as the second suicide bomber at Brussels airport.
The man on the right of the CCTV image is now known in the media as the ‘man in white’. It is believed that this man’s bomb did not detonate and he fled the scene. He is believed to be at large.
On March 28, police issued a fresh appeal for information on the “man in white”. More pictures and a video were released on the police website showing the man walking through the airport with a trolley alongside the two suicide bombers moments before the attack.
Raids and arrests
A number of people were detained and some arrested after police conducted many operations across Belgium in the week following the attacks. This list is not exhaustive.
On March 22, police discovered an explosive device containing nails, along with IS flag and other materials including chemicals in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. A taxi driver who took the suspects to the airport led police to the apartment where the bomb was found, according to reports. He said the bombers wanted to take more luggage to the airport than would fit in his taxi.
On March 25, six people were arrested in police raids connected to the attacks.
On March 26, the federal prosecutor said a man named as Fayçal C had been charged with terrorist killings, attempted terrorist killings and participation in a terrorist group. He had been arrested the previous evening. A search was carried out at his home but no arms or explosives were found.
Media named the man as Fayçal Cheffou, who is thought to be a freelance journalist. Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper quoted police sources as saying it was highly likely Cheffou was the ‘man in white’ in the airport CCTV image, and an unnamed “source close to the inquiry” told AFP that investigators were working on the hypothesis that Fayçal C was that man. Le Soir and RTBF said the taxi driver who drove the attackers to the airport had picked him out of a photo lineup.
RTBF said that police were awaiting the results of DNA analyses.
Authorities never confirmed Fayçal C’s involvement in the airport attack.
On March 28, Fayçal C was released due to a lack of evidence linking him the attacks. A statement from the prosecutor said: “The indications that led to the arrest of Fayçal C were not substantiated by the ongoing inquiry,” and as a result he was released.
However, the charges against him have not been dropped.
Fayçal C is thought to be the only person charged with offences directly connected to the Brussels attacks, although at least six other men were charged with related offences.
On March 25, Abderamane A was shot in the leg and arrested at a tram stop in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels. He was charged on March 27 in relation to the police operation in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil in which Reda Kriket was arrested.
On March 26, two other men arrested the previous day – Aboubakar A and Rabah N – were charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist group. Prosecutors said Rabah N’s arrest and charging was connected to the Paris police operation.
On March 28, Yassine A, Mohamed B and Aboubaker O, who were arrested on March 27, were charged with belonging to a terrorist group
Islamic State claims responsibility
On the day of the attacks, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks through the Amaq news agency and later on its own Khilafa News channel. Federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw said Belgian authorities were still verifying the IS claim, and no further statements have been made by authorities in relation to the claim.
Links to Paris attacks
Prosecutors confirmed on March 24 that metro suicide bomber Khalid El Bakraoui was suspected of using an alias to rent an apartment in Charleroi. Police found fingerprints belonging to Paris attackers Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Bilal Hadfi in the apartment on December 9, and an arrest warrant was issued on December 11.
Khalid El Bakraoui is also suspected of using an alias to rent the apartment in the Forest district of Brussels where on March 15 police found Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprint and shot dead Mohamed Belkaid in a gun battle.
On November 17, 2015, four days after the Paris attacks, Mohamed Belkaid and Najim Laachraoui were caught on CCTV wiring cash to a cousin of suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Both Abaaoud and his cousin died the following day in the St Denis shoot-out.
Najim Laachraoui, the second airport suicide bomber identified, is suspected to have made the bombs used in both the Brussels and Paris attacks. On March 21, Belgian prosecutors identified Laachraoui as a suspect connected to the Paris attacks. His DNA was found at an apartment Schaerbeek that was used to prepare explosives and to hide Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam before his capture. On March 25, prosecutors said Laachraoui’s DNA had been found on device fragments at the Paris Bataclan music hall and at the Stade de France.
Belgian prosecutors believe that, using aliases, Laachraoui and Belkaid crossed the border between Hungary and Austria with Salah Abdeslam and another man on September 9, 2015.
On March 26, Italian Italian police arrested Djamal Eddine Ouali, an Algerian man suspected of supplying fake documents used by Salah Abdeslam, Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Belkaid.
Salah Abdeslam is suspected to have been heavily involved in the planning and execution of the Paris attacks, and is believed to have managed logistics for the cell. His brother Brahim blew himself up at the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant during the attacks. Abdeslam was captured after a shootout in Brussels on March 18 and he was formally charged on March 19.
On March 24, his lawyer, Sven Mary, said that Abdeslam would no longer oppose his extradition and that “he wishes to leave for France as quickly as possible”. Mary also said Abdeslam said he knew nothing about the Brussels attacks.
The day before the Brussels attacks, Belgian prosecutors said DNA had identified 24-year-old Laachraoui as a suspected accomplice in the Paris attacks.
On March 25, Laachraoui was identified by prosecutors as the second suicide bomber at Brussels airport.
In 2012 he began an electro-mechanical engineering course at Brussels Free University (ULB) but did not return for a second year. Belgian prosecutors said he travelled to Syria in February 2013.
Laachraoui is suspected to have been the bombmaker who supplied devices for the November 2015 attacks on Paris which killed 130 people, and for the Brussels attacks.
Belgian prosecutors also said Laachraoui’s DNA was found in Paris on a piece of cloth at the Bataclan concert hall and on an explosive device at the Stade de France.
Laachraoui’s DNA was reported to have been found at a safe house in Auvelais that was used by the attackers, and in a Schaerbeek apartment used to prepare explosives and to hide fugitive Salah Abdeslam.
Belgian prosecutors believe he used the alias Soufiane Kayal to cross the border between Hungary and Austria with Salah Abdeslam and another man on September 9. Police suspect the second man in the car was Mohamed Belkaid using the alias Samir Bouzid. Belkaid was the man shot dead by police in the Forest district of Brussels on March 15. Police later found Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprint in the apartment.
There was much media speculation in the days following the attacks that Laachraoui was the so-called ‘man in white’ who fled from the airport after the explosions. On March 23, Belgian media incorrectly reported that Laachraoui had been arrested in Anderlecht.
Brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui
On March 23, Federal prosecutor Frédéric van Leeuw identified two brothers who bombed the airport and metro train.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui was one of the suicide bombers at Brussels Zaventem International Airport.
Khalid El Bakraoui blew himself up on a carriage of the Brussels metro at Maelbeek station.
The brothers were known to police but were not linked by police to terrorism. Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 after a gunfight with police during an attempted robbery in which an officer was shot and wounded. Younger brother Khalid was convicted of carjacking, receiving a five-year sentence in 2011.
Belgium confirms metro bomber Khalid El Bakraoui’s link to Paris attacks
Belgian prosecutors confirmed on March 24 that they had issued an international arrest warrant for Khalid El Bakraoui on December 11.
A statement said El Bakraoui was suspected of using a false identity to rent a safe house in Charleroi, about 65 km (40 miles) south of Brussels. The apartment was used by the militant cell that carried out the Paris attacks.
The New York Times reports the alias he used was Ibrahim Maaroufi.
Belgian police searched the property on December 9 and found fingerprints belonging to two Paris attackers – Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Bilal Hadfi, and an international and European arrest warrant was issued two days later.
He also suspected of using an alias to rent the apartment in the Forest district of Brussels where police found Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprint and shot dead gunman Mohamed Belkaid on March 15.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui deported from Turkey
On March 23, Turkish officials said Ibrahim El Bakraoui was detained in Turkey near the Syrian border in June 2015 and was deported to the Netherlands in July.
Turkey says it warned Belgium and the Netherlands that he was a “foreign terrorist fighter.”
On March 24, Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper published a letter it said was from Turkish officials to the Dutch embassy in Turkey. The letter says that two people were sent to Amsterdam on July 14, 2015, but does not say why the pair were sent to the Netherlands.
Dutch Minister of Security and Justice Ard van der Steur said on March 24 that authorities were not told why Ibrahim El Bakraoui had been flown from Turkey and had no reason to detain him.
Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon on Friday blamed a police liaison officer “blunder” for Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s mishandled return from Turkey.
“Someone within the police was at the very least negligent and not very pro-active in a case where you immediately get the feeling that it involves terrorism,” he said.
The Man in White
There was much media speculation on March 25 that the ‘third man’ was Mohamed Abrini, a suspect in the Paris attacks. It is believed that Abrini, a childhood friend of Salah Abdeslam from Molenbeek, drove with the Abdeslam brothers from Belgium to Paris and back on November 10 and 11, just days before the November 13 Paris attacks.
On March 26, speculation moved to Fayçal C, the man who was charged with membership of a terrorist group, terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder, but who was released from custody two days later.
Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper said police sources said it was likely Fayçal C was the ‘third man’. Le Soir and RTBF said the taxi driver who drove the attackers to the airport picked him out of a photo lineup.
An unnamed “source close to the inquiry” told AFP that investigators were working on the hypothesis that Fayçal C was the third man in the airport CCTV footage, but that Fayçal C’s involvement was not then confirmed.
A fifth attacker?
Le Monde, RTBF and France 24 say Belgian police are trying to identify a man seen carrying a large bag and considered a possible fifth attacker. It is reported that he was filmed talking to metro train bomber Khalid El Bakraoui on the day of the attack.
Reuters on March 25 reported that an un-named person familiar with the investigation said that Belgian investigators believe a man arrested on Thursday was an accomplice of Khalid El Bakraoui who blew himself up on a carriage of the Brussels metro at Maelbeek station.
Main image: Gathering Place de la Bourse, Brussels, in honor of victims of terrorism Valentina Calà/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0