Friday 23 February 2018

Belgian media backtrack on claims Najim Laachraoui arrested

Police issued a wanted alert after he was reportedly pictured in Brussels Airport with suicide bombers

Najim Laachraoui is a suspect in the Brussels Airport bombing and has links to Salah Abdeslam
Najim Laachraoui is a suspect in the Brussels Airport bombing and has links to Salah Abdeslam

Brussels bomb suspect Najim Laachraoui is still on the run after the blasts which killed at least 34 people and left around 200 injured, including four Britons.

La Derniere Heure quoted anonymous police sources saying that Najim Laachraoui had been detained by armed police on Wednesday morning, but later backtracked on its claims.

"Contrary to what we announced, the man arrested in Anderlecht is not Najim Laachraoui," its website read.

Journalists from De Tijd and EenVandaag subsequently claimed the arrested man, who has not been identified, was found at a pizza restaurant but the report has not been confirmed.

A suspicious pizza order allegedly alerted police to Salah Abdeslam's wherabouts last week, while empty pizza boxes were also found littering hotel rooms used by the Paris attackers to prepare for November's massacres.

There was no immediate confirmation of the arrest from Belgian authorities but the country's federal prosecutor announced a press conference within minutes of the reports.

Laachraoui was captured on CCTV at Brussels Airport with two suspected attackers, pushing a luggage trolley while wearing a distinctive white coat and hat.

He was believed to be the only suspect remaining on the run following Tuesday's attacks, where brothers Khalid and el-Brahim Bakraoui died in bombings at Brussels airport and Maalbeek Metro station.

Under his alias Soufiane Kayal, the 25-year-old had been wanted for months as a suspected bomb maker linked to the Paris attacks after his DNA was found alongside that of the terrorists who carried out the massacres at a safe house where traces of explosives and suicide belts were found.

He also rented one of the hide-outs, in Auvelais, where the cell prepared for the massacres that would kill 130 people in the French capital.

Laachraoui was picked up in Budapest by Salah Abdeslam, possibly making his way back from Syria, on 9 September alongside Mohamed Belkaid, the 35-year-old Algerian killed by police in Forest on 15 March.

The net has been tightening on the remaining accomplices following Belkaid's death and Abdeslam's eventual arrest on Friday and there was speculation that Tuesday's attacks were either an act of revenge or the fulfilment of plots Abdeslam claimed had already been hatched.

The airport explosions, followed little over an hour later by another blast at a Metro station, left at least 31 dead and 250 wounded.

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