Friday 23 February 2018

Brussels terror attacks: Six held in police raids

A policeman in forensic overalls leaves a house in the Brussels suburb of Schaerbeek (AP)
A policeman in forensic overalls leaves a house in the Brussels suburb of Schaerbeek (AP)

Kate Ferguson, Press Association

SIX PEOPLE have been arrested in connection with the Brussels terror attacks, Belgian prosecutors have said.

At least 32 people were killed and 270 injured when suicide bombs ripped through the airport and a Metro station on Tuesday morning.

Three terrorists died in the explosions and a massive manhunt was launched to track down other suspects believed to be behind the blasts.

Belgian prosecutors said the arrests were made during raids in central Brussels, Jette and the Schaerbeek neighbourhood - where police found a large stash of explosives and other bomb-making material earlier this week in a flat believed used by the suicide bombers.

Schaerbeek residents said they heard blasts during the police raids, but it is unclear of these were explosions or controlled detonations.

The arrests came as officers in France swooped on a man suspected of being in the "advanced stages" of a plot to attack the country, in a raid on the outskirts of Paris.

A woman weeps as a crowd gathers in front of a makeshift memorial to pay tribute to the victims of the Brussels attacks on the Place de la Bourse in central Brussels. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A woman weeps as a crowd gathers in front of a makeshift memorial to pay tribute to the victims of the Brussels attacks on the Place de la Bourse in central Brussels. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

France's interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said there were no links "at this stage" between the plot and the terror attacks in Brussels and in Paris in November.

Belgian security services were hunting two men pictured with the suicide bombers shortly before the attacks and believed to be on the run.

One of the men was caught on CCTV carrying a large bag and walking with jihadist Khalid El Bakraoui moments before the bomb detonated, according to state broadcaster RTBF and France's Le Monde newspaper.

Another of the suspected killers, dubbed "the man in white", was pictured pushing a trolley through Zaventem Airport with Najim Laachraoui and Khalid's brother Ibrahim before they blew themselves up.

More details have emerged over exactly what the security services knew about the terrorists involved in the atrocities.

According to reports, the El Bakraoui brothers were plotting an attack on a nuclear power facility and brought forward the Brussels strikes following the arrest of Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam.

The brothers planted a hidden camera in front of the home of the director of research and development at the Belgian nuclear programme, the La Derniere Heure newspaper said.

The footage showed the nuclear boss's comings and goings and prompted investigators to conclude the terrorists "could have put national security in danger like never before", the paper added.

Prosecutors have confirmed the Brussels bombings, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, were linked to the Paris attacks in November.

Khalid is believed to have rented a house in Charleroi in Belgium which was used as a hideout for the Paris attackers.

An international warrant was out for his arrest and police had been searching for him since December.

Belgium's interior minister and justice minister offered to resign amid growing questions about why authorities failed to prevent the terror attacks, but the prime minister refused to accept the resignations.

Meanwhile, the family of Briton David Dixon, 53, who is originally from Hartlepool but was living in Brussels and has been missing since the Metro blast, said it was "anxiously waiting" and hoping for "good news" about him.

Flights to Brussels airport have been suspended until Monday, the airport said.

The news came as the younger brother of suspected Brussels suicide bomber Najim Laachraoui described him as "nice" and intelligent".

Mourad Laachraoui, 20, told reporters: "I feel bad, that's all - scared and saddened."

He described his brother as "a nice boy - especially intelligent", who read a lot and said their family was a practising Muslim household, but he could not say what put his brother on the path to violent extremism.

He said: "I'm no psychologist, no idea."

The Laachraoui family warned Belgian police that Najim had gone to Syria in 2013 when he called them about leaving. His brother Mourad said he searched in vain for his brother on Facebook to try to persuade him to come home but they had had no contact with him since he left.

It has not yet been officially confirmed to them that Najim died as one of the three suspected suicide bombers who attacked the Brussels airport.

His comments came as more news emerged about the Britons injured in the attacks.

Two British businessmen, both in their 40s, suffered severe and "life-changing" injuries after being caught up in the airport blasts, according to The Telegraph.

Professor Stefaan Nijs, head of traumatology at Leuven Hospital, said: "Both British patients are being very courageous and strong."

One of the men has a broken leg and severe burns. The other had both his legs broken and his injuries were so bad it was feared he might have to have his leg amputated.

Dr Nijs said: "Yesterday I was able to speak to one of the guys who he asked me if he would keep his leg. When I told him that he would be able to walk again, but perhaps not go to the Olympics, he gave me a fist-bump."

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