March 23, 2016

BELGIUM: Brussels Attacks, One Day After: What We Know. 31 Souls Murdered, 270 Injured.

written by Camila Domonoske and Meghan Collins Sullivan
Wednesday March 23, 2016

A day after terrorist attacks in Brussels claimed by ISIS killed at least 31 people and wounded at least 270 others, police continue to search for a suspected accomplice.

The man in question was seen with two suspected bombers on closed-circuit TV at the Brussels airport, shortly before two explosions went off at the airport Tuesday morning and one bomb was set off at a metro station.

Belgian authorities say they have used fingerprints to identify two of the deceased attackers as Belgian brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw says that Ibrahim was at the airport, while Khalid bombed the metro station. The two brothers had a criminal record, but no previously known connection to terrorism, Van Leeuw says.

In a series of raids following the attacks, the police uncovered bomb-making materials, including several kilograms of explosives, 150 liters of acetone, detonators and a suitcase filled with nails, Van Leeuw said Wednesday morning. Police have arrested and interviewed several people, but are still looking for a key suspect.

The surveillance camera footage at the airport shows Ibrahim El Bakraoui in the center, the Belgian prosecutor says, and an unidentified airport attacker on the left. The man on the right — in a light-colored jacket and hat — is believed to be on the run.

That man, who has not been named by police, had carried a bag with a large explosive weapon — larger than the two bombs which did detonate at the airport, Van Leeuw said. But the weapon malfunctioned, and did not go off until the bomb squad arrived.

Belgian broadcaster RTBF has suggested that the Bakraoui brothers are perhaps linked to the Paris terrorist attacks of Nov. 13, which killed 130 people, but prosecutors have not confirmed any connection.

Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris attacks, was arrested in Brussels last week. He is set to appear before a pre-trial court on Wednesday in Brussels.

Authorities are still looking for Abdeslam's accomplices in the November attacks — including one man, Laachroui Najim, whose identity was only recently revealed.

Analysts have suggested that Abdeslam's arrest may have affected the timing of this week's Belgium attacks, but that the planning for these attacks began before Abdeslam's was apprehended.

Investigators and police in France and Belgium have been cooperating in the fight against terrorism. Following the Brussels attacks, the French interior minister announced 1,600 additional police and soldiers would be stationed at train stations and border crossings.

A number of countries have increased security at borders and transportation sites after bombs went off at Brussels' Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station Tuesday morning.

The U.S. State Dept. issued this travel warning Tuesday:
"The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to potential risks of travel to and throughout Europe following several terrorist attacks, including the March 22 attacks in Brussels claimed by [ISIS]. Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation."
The Brussels bombings follow five other violent attacks that have hit cities in Turkey, Africa and the Middle East in the past 10 days.

Belgium is observing three days of mourning and at midday Wednesday (7 a.m. EDT), a moment of silence was held for the victims in Brussels.

The Brussels airport will remain closed on Wednesday and Thursday, while the metro is running a limited service.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson said that Brussels residents were defiant Tuesday night, gathering at the Brussels Stock Exchange to mourn the dead and express national unity.

On Wednesday, Soraya says, fewer people than usual were out on the city streets. But those who she spoke with said they didn't plan on halting their lives out of fear.

"We have a world war right now, and the life has to continue," one commuter told Soraya. "We cannot change anything, unfortunately."

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

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