AFP news agency, citing police sources, has identified Najim Laachraoui as the second Brussels Airport suicide bomber.
The Belgian, of Moroccan origin, was reportedly identified as the man on the left of a CCTV image taken at Zaventem Airport on the morning of the blasts.
At least 31 people died and up to 270 were injured in twin attacks on the airport and metro in Brussels.
Laachraoui: ‘accomplice and bomb-maker’
A day before the Brussels attacks, Belgian prosecutors named Laachraoui as an accomplice to the Paris attackers who killed 130 people in a series of coordinated shootings and bombings in November, 2015.
Authorities said they’d found his DNA in a number of houses used by a suspected jihadist network. He is believed to have been a key bomb-maker. The 24-year-old had been using the alias Soufiane Kayal.
Belgian authorities say Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was the first airport suicide bomber. He was seen on the same CCTV image as Laachraoui. A third man is still being sought.
Ibrahim’s brother Khalid has been identified as the Maelbeek metro bomber. The ISIL militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Earlier on Wednesday (March 23), a man, said to be a suspect in the attacks, was arrested in the municipality of Anderlecht, in the Brussels Capital Region. There has been no further information on this.
El-Bakraoui deported from Turkey?
The reports came around an hour after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced one of the Brussels suicide bombers was deported from Turkey in July 2015.
Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was detained in June 2015, Ankara said. Upon deportation, Turkish authorities warned their Belgian counterparts that he was a militant, according to Erdogan. However, el-Bakraoui was later released by Belgium, with “no links with terrorism found,” the Turkish presidency reported. Erdogan says Belgium ignored Turkey’s warnings.
Belgian Justice Minister, Koen Geens denied the reports.
“At that time this person wasn’t known to us for terrorist acts. He was known as a criminal who was freed conditionally. When he was sent back, as the information by the Justice Department tells me, he was sent to the Netherlands, not to Belgium,” he said on Wednesday evening.
“This is what I’ve come to know. It definitely wasn’t an extradition. This is something else entirely. It’s a case of someone being sent back from the Syrian border. Someone who wasn’t known to us at the time for terrorism.”
Erdogan said el-Bakraoui was returned to the Netherlands at his request. Turkey says it was also in touch with the Dutch authorities. It is not clear when he was handed over to the Belgian authorities.