The Malta Independent 29 August 2016, Monday

Paris bombmaker among Brussels dead, 1 attacker was deported from Turkey, Brussels mourns

Associated Press Wednesday, 23 March 2016, 08:40 Last update: about 6 months ago

9:05 p.m.

Two officials say the suspected bombmaker in the Paris attacks was one of two suicide bombers who died in the Brussels airport blasts.

The officials said that Najim Laachraoui's DNA was verified as that of one of the attackers on Tuesday, after samples were taken from remains found at the blast site in Brussels airport.

One European intelligence official and one French police official spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to divulge details of the Belgian investigation. Both officials were briefed on the investigation.

Laachraoui's DNA was also found on the suicide belts used in the Paris attack, and authorities believe he was the bombmaker in the Nov. 13 attacks in the French capital.

8:15 p.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israelis know what Belgians are enduring and offered them his country's expertise in combating attacks.

Netanyahu said at a news conference on Wednesday night that he had spoken with the Belgian prime minister and the EU foreign minister and wished Belgians a speedy recovery to the wounded in the name of the Israeli people.

Netanyahu said that "if there is one people in the world who knows what they are going through, it is the citizens of Israel who have bravely and heroically faced terror attacks for many years."

He said that "I offered them full Israeli assistance in the struggle against terror, intelligence and security assistance."

He said the world needs to unite and act against terrorism.

8 p.m.

Authorities in the Bahamas say they are investigating whether one of the Brussels attackers, Khalid El Bakraoui, also had Bahamian nationality.

Minister of National Security Bernard Nottage said Wednesday in Parliament that there is an Interpol red notice that confirms that El Bakraoui had Belgian nationality and "then it says Bahamian not confirmed."

Nottage says that Bahamian police have indicated that there is no evidence to suggest he is Bahamian, "but that matter is being investigated."

Belgian authorities identified El Bakraoui as the suicide bomber who targeted the subway. They said his brother, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was a suicide bomber at the airport.

7:30 p.m.

A relative of two young Americans missing since the Brussels attacks says the couple embraced the opportunity to live and travel in Europe.

Justin and Stephanie Shults had just waved goodbye to Stephanie's mother as she walked though airport security when bomb blasts tore through the airport Tuesday.

The couple moved to Brussels for work in 2014. Stephanie's cousin Larry Newsom said "they've taken full advantage of living over there and experiencing the world. They travel every month to a new place in Europe."

Stephanie Shults, originally from Lexington, Kentucky, and her husband, from Tennessee, met in graduate school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Newsom said the family hoped "they've just been helping people, which is very much their nature. But we can't believe they wouldn't have checked in."

7:15 p.m.

Brussels airport is going to remain closed at least until Saturday because of the double bomb attack there.

Airport spokeswoman Florence Muls says the date was pushed further back late Wednesday because authorities want to maintain a security perimeter until late Friday to continue their investigation into the attacks.

Every day the airport is closed, some 600 flights are being cancelled or diverted to other airports close by.

The bombings Tuesday at Brussels airport and a city subway station left 34 dead, including three bombers, and wounded 270 people.

7 p.m.

The chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee says it appears to him that the attacks Tuesday in Belgium were targeting Americans.

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of California told reporters Wednesday after briefings with U.S. intelligence officials that one blast at the Brussels airport was close to counters for United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Airlines — all U.S. carriers. Coupled with another blast on the subway close to the U.S. embassy, Nunes said it looks like an attack on Americans.

He says "if you are going to pick some locations (in Brussels) where you might hit Americans, those would be the locations."

No other officials have suggested that the attack was targeting Americans. The subway blast was also close to the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

6:50 p.m.

President Barack Obama has declared that fighting the Islamic State group is his "No. 1 priority" and has pledged that the United States will pursue the jihadist group until it is destroyed.

Speaking Wednesday while on a trip to Argentina, Obama says "I've got a lot of things on my plate, but my top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that's been taking place around the world."

The American president says "the issue is, how do we do it in an intelligent way?"

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, announced he is coming to Brussels on Friday to talk with European officials about fighting terror.

6:30 p.m.

An official in the Turkish president's office says the Brussels attacker who was deported from Turkey was Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

The official corrected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's account, saying El Bakraoui, who was caught in June at the Turkish-Syrian border, was deported to the Netherlands in July, not Belgium.

Turkey says it warned both Belgium and the Netherlands that he was a "foreign terrorist fighter."

The official says Dutch authorities later allowed him to go free because Belgian authorities could not establish any ties to terrorism.  The official cannot be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A Belgian prosecutor says El Bakraoui was a 29-year-old Belgian who blew himself up at the Brussels Airport on Tuesday.

—Suzan Fraser in Ankara.

6:10 p.m.

Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Brussels on Friday to discuss the deadly attacks with top Belgian and European officials.

State Department spokesman John Kirby says Kerry will visit the Belgian capital to "formally express the condolences of the United States for the loss of life" in Tuesday's bombings at the Brussels airport and subway.

He also will voice support for Belgian efforts to investigate the attacks and combat violent extremism.

At least 34 people were killed, including three suicide bombers, and more than 270 were wounded in the attacks claimed by Islamic State extremists.

Kerry is currently in Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin and other officials on Syria and Ukraine.

5:50 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says one of the Brussels attackers was caught in Turkey in June and deported to Belgium.

Erdogan says Wednesday that the Belgian authorities released the suspect despite Turkish warnings that he was "a foreign fighter."

Erdogan did not name the attacker. He said the man was detained at Turkey's border with Syria at Gaziantep and that Turkey formally notified Belgian authorities of his deportation on July 14.

Erdogan says "despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, Belgium could not establish any links with terrorism."

5:20 p.m.

A friendly soccer match between Belgium and Portugal next week has been moved to the Portuguese city of Leiria from Brussels because of the deadly attacks.

The Belgian federation reached agreement with its Portuguese counterpart on Wednesday, hours after the Belgians called off the match.

The match is still scheduled for next Tuesday, but not at King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

At least 34 people were killed, including three suicide bombers, and more than 270 wounded in Tuesday's bombings at the Brussels airport and subway.

3:45 p.m.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says one of the lessons learned from yet another attack in a European Union nation is that the bloc's 28 nations must heavily increase their investments in anti-terror measures.

Valls told reporters "in the coming years, EU nations will have to invest massively in their security system." He spoke after meeting with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.

Valls mentioned specifically that more funds will be needed for "manpower, technology — to face the types of threats that we will have to face."

3:20 p.m.

A top European Union official says the bloc's 28 nations need to cooperate better in sharing intelligence to counter the threat of religious extremism.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration and citizenship, was speaking Wednesday, a day after three bombings in Brussels killed 34 people including three suicide bombers and wounded 270 others.

He says "it's a moment for all member states to start working together. To foster mutual trust, exchange information and intelligence, because this is the only way to go ahead."

He said the EU's police cooperation agency, Europol, is the place to share intelligence in an attempt to foil attacks.

2:50 p.m.

Dozens gathered for a moment of silence outside the European Commission, hoping to show solidarity with the victims of the Brussels attacks and be with their fellow citizens in a time of crisis.

Among them was Alessandro Prister, 56, who works for Eurocontrol. He says Wednesday that he "felt it was my duty to show solidarity with all the victims" and to offer testament that this kind of attack should never happen again.

Prister was saddened that such things could happen in Brussels and says "I couldn't be any other place today."

2:35 p.m.

Belgium's chief prosecutor says investigators have found 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of TATP explosives at the house which the suspects in the Brussels attacks left from for the airport. Federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw says a cab driver who drove the three suspects to the airport led authorities to the house in Brussels. He says a special squad found the explosives inside the house, along with other chemicals that are commonly used to make bombs.

Explosions on Tuesday at the Brussels airport and a city subway center killed 34 people, including three suicide bombers, and wounded over 270 people.

2:20 p.m.

The Belgian prosecutor says two suspects in the bombings at the Brussels airport have still not yet been identified — one of them is a dead suicide bomber and the other is still on the loose.

Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw, speaking about a surveillance photo showing three airport suspects, outlined what is known about them at a news conference Wednesday.

Van Leeuw says the culprit in the middle, one of the two suicide bombers, was Ibrahim El Bakraoui, a 29-year-old Belgian born in Brussels. He said he was identified based on a fingerprint.

He says the second suicide bomber, on the left in the picture, is not yet identified.

The third suspect, who wore a pale coat and a dark hat in the right side of the picture, is also not yet identified and is being sought by police.

That suspect took flight and left behind a big bag at the airport before the two explosions. Van Leeuw says that bag turned out to have the heaviest load of explosives of all and blew up later when the bomb squad was there due to the instability of the explosives. Van Leeuw says fortunately no one was injured.

1:40 p.m.

Belgian authorities say several people possibly linked to deadly attacks on Brussels are still on the loose.

Paul Van Tigchelt, head of Belgium's terrorism threat body, told reporters Wednesday that is why the country is keeping the terrorism threat level at its highest level, which means there is a danger of an imminent attack.

He spoke alongside prosecutors who say they are searching for at least one person directly involved in the attack on Brussels airport.

1:30 p.m.

A Belgian prosecutor says a suicide bomber who attacked the Brussels airport left a will on a computer found in a trash can in a Brussels neighborhood.

Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw told reporters Wednesday that Ibrahim El Bakraoui blew himself up at the airport Tuesday in twin suicide bombings.

Investigators raided the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek after the attacks and found a computer in a trash can on the street including a note from El Bakraoui saying he felt increasingly unsafe and feared landing in prison.

The prosecutor also said one person detained in one of the raids remains in custody Wednesday and is under questioning.

1:25 p.m.

A Belgian prosecutor has identified two of the attackers who targeted the Brussels airport and subway as brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui but says another unidentified attacker remains at large.

Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw told reporters Wednesday that Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, and another as yet unidentified suicide bomber attacked the airport.

A third attacker also came to the airport with an explosive in a bag, but it exploded later and no one was hurt, the prosecutor said.

He said Khalid El Bakraoui, 27, blew himself up at the Maelbeek subway station. The attacks Tuesday killed at least 31 people and wounded 270, he said.

12:40 p.m.

Brussels airport has announced that it will remain closed to passenger flights for at least another day, right up to the start of the busy Easter weekend.

Airport officials said they would have to cancel some 600 flights each on Wednesday and Thursday. It means that since the attack on the airport Tuesday morning, the flights of some 180,000 passengers will be disrupted.

Brussels airport was hoping to resume cargo flights earlier but there was no immediate word on when.

12:35 p.m.

Belgians are holding a moment of silence to honor at least 34 people killed in unprecedented Islamic extremist attacks on Brussels.

Government offices, schools and residents marked the moment in a mood of anxiety, defiance — and fear that other people involved in the attacks Tuesday on the Brussels airport and a subway station may still be at large.

The country is holding three days of national mourning for the victims. In addition to those killed, over 200 people were wounded in the attacks.

Belgian police, meanwhile, are conducting raids and the country is at its highest terrorism alert level, meaning there's a risk of an imminent attack.

12:20 p.m.

The Belgian football federation has called off an international soccer friendly match against Portugal next week because of Tuesday's attacks in Brussels.

The federation said "because of security concerns" the city of Brussels asked for the cancellation and the federation obliged. The game was to have been played next Tuesday at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels.

The Belgian team, which is one of the favorites to win this summer's European Championships, had already canceled training for the friendly since the attacks.

12:10 p.m.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says the show must go on and big events, be they sports or cultural, must not be put on hold for fear of terror attacks.

He says Wednesday that includes the Euro2016 soccer tournament, a monthlong event being held in France that starts in June.

Valls says "the big popular events are indispensable in showing that we are a free people, on our feet, that we aren't scared."

Some commentators had called for the soccer tournament to be postponed due to the threat of terror.

Valls says authorities know these events are faced with a terror threat and will plan accordingly. But he insists that events like the Euro2016 tournament, the Tour de France bicycling race and "other large demonstrations will take place."

11:10 a.m.

Pope Francis has led thousands of people in silent prayer for the victims of the attacks at Brussels' airport and in its metro.

At the end of his public audience in St. Peter's Square Wednesday, Francis expressed his closeness to the "dear Belgian people" and asked the crowd of pilgrims and tourists to join him silently in prayer.

He also appealed to "all persons of good will to unite in unanimous condemnation" of the attacks causing death, horror and sorrow.

Francis is preparing to celebrate Holy Week ceremonies that will draw large crowds, including a Colosseum cross procession and culminating with Easter Mass in the square on Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome on Wednesday issued a travel alert advising "particular caution during religious holidays" as well as at large events.

11:05 a.m.

The Czech Defense Ministry says soldiers have been deployed as part of stepped-up security measures following the attacks in Brussels.

As of Wednesday morning, the ministry says 550 service members will be patrolling international airports, train stations and other places in the capital and all across the country, working with police officers.

Security was also boosted at Prague's subway network, at the country's two nuclear power plants and some foreign embassies.

10:55 a.m.

A lawyer's assistant says a judicial hearing in Brussels for Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has been postponed for a day to Thursday, apparently because of heightened security concerns in the Belgian capital.

 Bombing attacks Tuesday in the Brussels airport and subway killed 34 people and wounded scores, and the terrorism alert level throughout Belgium has been raised to its maximum level.

Abdeslam, who was arrested Friday in Brussels, was to appear Wednesday before a panel of judges who could extend his detention by another month. French authorities are seeking Abdeslam's extradition so he can be tried for his alleged role in the Nov. 13 bomb-and-gun attacks that killed 130 in Paris.

 An assistant to Sven Mary, Abdeslam's defense lawyer, told The Associated Press her boss was told the hearing had been rescheduled for Thursday morning. She refused to give her name.

9:55 a.m.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is urging the EU parliament to get going on authorizing a passenger name record (PNR) covering Europe.

He says: "It is urgent to adopt the European PNR. The European Parliament has waited too long to adopt this text. It must examine and adopt it in April, it's time."

Valls is going to Brussels today and says he will express his "full solidarity" with Belgium's people.

9:45 a.m.

As Brussels woke after its worst violence in decades, joggers ran loops and dog walkers chatted as usual in Brussels' 18th-century Warandepark across from the country's parliament. But gardeners on duty said the atmosphere was different, and the mood around town was jittery as sirens frequently wailed.

"It was black day. A very black day," said Jean-Marie Vrebos, 58, who was cleaning the park's playground. "We should punish those who commit terrorism. We don't deserve terror. We should punish them, GRAB them" — he yanked a piece of trash off the ground with a clasper — "and bring them to justice."

His colleague Kevin Engels, 24, said, "Behaviors have changed. Even our bosses seem stressed. They asked us to empty all the trash cans. We pay close attention to everything. And you can hear the sirens."

9:30 a.m.

Germany's top security official says he wants European security agencies to be able to exchange information more easily.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told RTL television late Tuesday that the Brussels attacks "and the security situation, the terror situation, should make us put the data protection arguments last."

De Maziere also say a soccer friendly match against England will go ahead despite the Brussels attacks. He says authorities "have no indications of a security threat" targeting the match in Berlin on Saturday.

In November, Islamic extremists tried to enter the stadium where Germany was playing France as part of a series of attacks in Paris. Days later, a friendly against the Netherlands days was canceled because of a security warning.

8:30 a.m.

Belgian authorities were searching Wednesday for a top suspect in the country's deadliest attacks in decades, as the European Union's capital awoke under guard and with limited public transport after 34 were killed in bombings on the Brussels airport and a subway station.

Police conducted raids into the night and circulated a photo of three men seen in the airport suspected of involvement in Tuesday's attacks.

Belgian state broadcaster RTBF has identified two of the attackers as brothers Khalid and Brahim Bakraoui. They are believed to have blown themselves up in the attacks.

The third man is at large and has been identified as Naijm Laachraoui, who is also suspected of having been an accomplice of Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week. 

The report Wednesday says the brothers were known to police for past crimes, but nothing relating to terrorism. RTBF says Khalid El Bakraoui had rented an apartment which was raided by police last week in an operation that led authorities to top Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

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