Suicide bomber at Brussels airport also involved in Paris attacks, officials say

By Doug G. Ware, Andrew V. Pestano and Shawn Price   |   Updated March 24, 2016 at 6:11 AM
1 of 7
| License Photo

BRUSSELS, March 23 (UPI) -- Belgian authorities on Wednesday said one of the men who carried out the terrorist bombings in Belgium this week was also heavily involved in the coordinated attacks in Paris four months ago.

Investigators said the suspect, Najim Laachraoui, is one of three men seen in a surveillance image taken at Zaventem International Airport in Brussels early Tuesday. Laachraoui, who officials say is at the far left in the image, is believed to have been one of two men who set off suicide bombs at the airport.

Multiple Belgian authorities also said Laachraoui, 24, had been wanted by police for months as a potential accomplice in the terror attacks in Paris in November, ABC News reported Wednesday. When he entered the airport Tuesday, police said he was one of the most wanted men in Europe.

One U.S. official said Laachraoui had made the suicide vests for the bombers in France, according to CBS News, and that his DNA had been conclusively linked to the Nov. 13 attacks, which killed 130 people.

Two Belgian brothers were identified by authorities earlier Wednesday as two other known suicide bombers who set off explosives in the Belgian capital Tuesday. Khalid el-Bakraoui bombed a nearby subway station while his brother, Ibrahim, bombed the airport with Laachraoui.

The suspect on the far right in the surveillance image has not yet been identified, but police said his bomb, which contained the largest amount of explosives, failed to detonate. Investigators believe he is still at large.

A Belgian prosecutor said all three airport suspects arrived via taxi from the Brussels district of Schaerbeek, where authorities searched an apartment and found a laptop containing a note written by Ibrahim, in which he allegedly said that he'd suspected he was wanted but didn't want to go to prison.

The taxi driver who drove the men to the airport alerted authorities after seeing the surveillance image of the suspects. Inside the apartment, investigators said they also found a nail bomb, chemical products and an Islamic State flag.

Three explosions rocked Brussels on Tuesday -- two at the airport at about 8 a.m., which detonated 37 seconds apart, and one at the subway station an hour later.

Wednesday, officials confirmed at least 30 people dead and 260 injured.

The el-Bakraoui brothers were previously suspected of involvement in organized crime in Europe, though Tuesday's attacks were the first time they've had any known association with terrorism, Belgian state-run broadcaster RTBF reported.

Belgium will observe three days of national mourning. A minute of silence was held Wednesday at noon local time.

Authorities continue to probe connections between the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, both of which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for. The group cited participation by Belgium in a "coalition against the Islamic State" as a motive for Tuesday's attacks.

The threat level in Belgium was increased to its highest level immediately following the attacks. Two nuclear power plants in the country were also cleared of non-essential personnel for unspecified reasons.

Related UPI Stories
Latest Headlines
Top Stories