Huge manhunt for mystery terrorist who abandoned his bomb and fled
Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30
An unknown terrorist remained on the run last night after Belgian police missed a series of opportunities to catch the Brussels suicide bombers.
The jihadi, whose true identity is believed not to be known to authorities, is at the centre of a massive manhunt.
In the CCTV image showing the suicide bombers walking nonchalantly through Brussels Airport in the moments before that attack, the mystery terrorist is seen wearing a hat and white coat.
It is thought the man abandoned his suitcase bomb and fled the scene.
It has emerged that police appear to have missed a number of opportunities to capture other members of the cell.
Najim Laachraoui, the cell's bombmaker who is now reported to have blown himself up in the airport attack, had travelled to Syria to join Isil in 2013.
Police and security services had failed to monitor his return.
Laachraoui (24), who also used the alias Soufiane Kayal, was also captured on CCTV along with another member of his terror cell withdrawing money from a Western Union branch in the Brussels area four days after the attacks on Paris in November last year.
Laachraoui's DNA was found on an explosive suicide belt in the Bataclan theatre and another in the attack on the Stade de France.
Two other members of the cell - Ibrahim el Bakraoui and Khalid el Bakraoui, the brothers who blew themselves up at Brussels Airport and on a metro train - are thought to have been living with a fourth member of the gang, Salah Abdeslam.
A police raid on March 15 - a week before the attack - on an apartment where Abdeslam had been living, ended in failure.
The apartment had been rented by Khalid el Bakraoui, raising serious concern that he too could have been apprehended a week before the Brussels bombings.
Abdeslam, who was caught three days later, escaped arrest by fleeing across the rooftops. It was suggested last night that one or possibly both of the brothers may have been with him when he fled.
In the weeks before Tuesday's double onslaught, the trio had evaded police monitoring by hopping between rental properties and bed-sits across the city.
Officers were unable to track them down even after Interpol alerts were issued as long ago as August 2015 - three months before the attacks on Paris last November.
Locals said that Abdeslam was a common sight in Molenbeek, a tight-knit neighbourhood that has become synonymous with jihadists. They claimed they had seen Abdeslam regularly "eating in cafés, going to the mosque".
"Everyone knew he was here, everyone - but, of course, if I'd seen him, I'd have told the police," one local said.
The el Bakraoui brothers are thought to have been linked to at least five homes across the city's north, east and southern suburbs, as well as with rental records of a Charleroi apartment used as a base for the Paris attackers in October.
Locals believe officers may have missed a key chance to foil the plot after a shoot-out at a property in Forest, south Brussels, last Tuesday.
The terrace property had been occupied by a European couple in their 30s and their two young daughters as recently as last month.
But on Tuesday the brothers are thought to have fled the address with Abdeslam after armed police swooped.
Joseph El-Hadj, a nearby shopworker, said: "The pair scaled on the rooftops to escape. Police came storming into the electronics shop to find them but had no luck. I don't know how they got away." (© Daily Telegraph, London)