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The Latest: Prosecutors say 6 arrested in Brussels attacks
The Latest: Prosecutors say 6 arrested in Brussels attacks
Mar. 24, 2016
BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on the suicide bombings this week in Brussels (all times local):
Belgian prosecutors say six people have been detained in raids around Brussels linked to this week's attacks on the city's airport and subway system.
Federal prosecutors said in a statement late Thursday that the arrests were made during raids in central Brussels, Jette and the Schaerbeek neighborhood.
Police found a large stash of explosives and other bomb-making material earlier this week in an apartment in Schaerbeek believed used by the suicide bombers.
Schaerbeek residents described hearing detonations during the police raids. It was unclear whether they were explosions or controlled detonations.
The younger brother of suspected Brussels suicide bomber Najim Laachraoui said Thursday evening he is sad and overwhelmed over what his sibling had done.
The 20-year-old Mourad Laachraoui told reporters that "I feel bad, that's all — scared and saddened." He said the family had no contact with Najim since he left for Syria in 2013.
Najim Laachraoui is also suspected of having made bombs used in the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris.
His brother described him as "a nice boy— especially intelligent," who read a lot and practiced the martial art of taekwondo for a while like he does. He described their family as a practicing Muslim household, but said he couldn't say what put his brother on the path to violent extremism.
He said that "I'm no psychologist, no idea."
He said the family informed Belgian police when his brother called them about leaving for Syria. He searched in vain for his brother on Facebook, he said, to try to persuade him to come home.
He said the family has not yet been officially informed of Najim Laachraoui's death as one of the three suspected suicide bombers who attacked the Brussels airport and subway on Tuesday, killing 31 people and wounding 270.
Singing peace songs, taking selfies and wiping away tears, several hundred people have gathered at a central Brussels plaza to honor those killed in Islamic extremist attacks.
Ashraf, a Moroccan-born Muslim who is proud to call himself a Bruxellois, or a Brussels resident, came to light a candle and take photos of the memorial site with his mother, father, aunt and brother.
"It always happens, that people ask Muslims 'why do you do this?' But that is not real Islam," he said. "We must have more understanding of this."
Because of the climate of suspicion, and because he wanted to protect his family, Ashraf didn't want his last name published.
Yet he came to the Place de la Bourse to celebrate this multi-cultural city.
"This is a special country, it is open. I know people of many, dozens of nationalities," he said. Behind him, flags or symbols from a dozen countries adorned the square.
European justice and home affairs ministers are calling on the European parliament "as a matter of urgency" to adopt an agreement that would allow authorities to exchange airport passenger data.
The ministers issued a statement of solidarity with Belgium following an emergency meeting. The joint statement condemned the "horrific terrorist acts" on Tuesday in Brussels and described them as "an attack on our open, democratic society."
The passenger data issue has long disturbed privacy campaigners, and figures large in the debate over security versus liberties. The United States has long pushed for better data sharing, but Europeans have balked over privacy issues.
Belgium authorities have lowered the terror threat level one notch, but say the situation is "exceptional" and "grave" and that another attack is "likely and possible."
The head of the terror threat assessment authority, Paul Van Tigchelt, says the imminent nature of the threat has lessened since the attacks on the airport and subway Tuesday.
Nonetheless, he says "the danger has not gone away."
The Dutch justice minister has confirmed that one of the Brussels suicide bombers was flown from Turkey to Amsterdam in July, but says that authorities weren't told why and had no reason to detain him.
In a letter to parliament, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur said Thursday that Ibrahim El Bakraoui was put on a plane from Istanbul to the Dutch capital on July 14, but that Turkish officials didn't say why and his name wasn't flagged in any Dutch law enforcement databases.
Van der Steur says that El Bakraoui had a valid Belgian passport when he arrived in Amsterdam "so there was no reason to take any action" at Schiphol Airport.
It wasn't clear what El Bakraoui did after arriving in the Netherlands.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that El Bakraoui, was caught in June 2015 near Turkey's border with Syria and deported, at his own request, to the Netherlands, with Ankara warning Dutch and Belgian officials that he was a "foreign terrorist fighter."
The Dutch version of events appeared to contradict that, with Van der Steur saying that an electronic message from Turkey's foreign ministry to the Dutch embassy in Ankara gave no information about the reason El Bakraoui and an unidentified German national were put on the flight.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says France is proposing the creation of a taskforce to help in the fight against fake identities.
Speaking from the sidelines of the of EU justice and security ministers' meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Cazeneuve acknowledged that more must be done since "Islamic State managed to get fake passports and have established a structure that manufactures fake documents."
Multiple suspects in Tuesday's attacks in Brussels and November's attacks in Paris were found to have used false identities.
Cazeneuve added that a united front needs to be shown also in the fight against arms trafficking, which he called "one of the main causes of the development of terrorist activities."
A Brussels court has ordered 16 people to stand trial over an attempted terrorist attack in January 2015 — a plot linked to a man who later orchestrated the Paris attacks.
Belgian counterterrorism forces raided the town of Verviers on Jan. 15, 2015 to foil what was described as a jihadi plot to mount a major and imminent attack, killing two suspects.
The federal prosecutor's office said in a statement Thursday that 16 people would be sent to trial, including four who are under pre-trial detention.
Among the initial suspects who will not face trial is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected Paris attacks ringleader. He was killed in a police raid days after the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris. Abaaoud was linked to a string of thwarted attacks in France last year as well, and experts believe they were effectively rehearsals for the Paris violence.
Brussels airport has cancelled flights until at least Monday because of the Brussels attacks.
The long Easter weekend is one of the busiest in the year with at least some 600 flights for 60,000 passengers a day.
Sunday would be the sixth straight day without flights at the airport and airlines have made alternative plans to keep flight cancellations for their passengers to a minimum.
The Lithuanian president has slammed other European leaders as "too naive" in the face of extremism, saying that tougher measures are needed even if it means sacrificing some human rights.
In the wake of the Belgium attacks, Dalia Grybauskaite said that in the fight against extremist organizations "our reaction must be adequate ... (and) the time to complain about human rights has long since passed."
The Baltic leader was speaking in a local radio interview Thursday before meeting NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow and alliance ambassadors.
Lithuania, an eager NATO partner after nearly five decades of Soviet occupation, was allegedly involved in a secret CIA program, including providing a jail for terror suspects who were flown into the country by the U.S. intelligence agency in 2004-2005.
A senior official from Turkey's ruling party says Belgian authorities should have treated Turkey's warnings over one of the Brussels attackers with "more sensitivity."
Omer Celik — spokesman for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's Justice and Development Party — also said Thursday the fact that Turkey had warned Brussels over the bomber should "put to shame" countries who have accused Ankara of supporting the Islamic State group.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that one of the Brussels attackers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was caught in June 2015 near Turkey's border with Syria and deported, at his own request, to the Netherlands, with Ankara warning Dutch and Belgian officials that he was a "foreign terrorist fighter." Turkish officials said he was released from Dutch custody due to lack of evidence of involvement in extremism.
"We caught him, we prevented him from crossing into Syria, we deported him and we warned Belgium and the Netherlands about him," Celik said. "Since the warning was made by Turkey, they could have asked for more information. They could have treated the issue with more sensitivity."
A Jet Airways manager says a flight attendant injured in the Belgium attacks is undergoing treatment for burns and has been placed in a medically induced coma.
Bernard Guisset, a Jet Airways manager in Brussels, said Nidhi Chaphekar has burns over 15 percent of her body and has a fractured foot, but is out of danger.
The image of Chaphekar taken right after the blast was one of the most searing photographs taken Tuesday. It showed the 40-year-old mother of two from Mumbai, her bright yellow uniform ripped across her chest. Her hair was caked with soot, and blood streaked down her face.
Meanwhile, Amit Motwani, a Jet Airways flight purser who was also injured in the airport blast, was being treated for injuries to his eye and ear.
France says it will use an emergency meeting in Brussels to call for better security measures in Europe.
Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll quoted President Francois Hollande as telling a Cabinet meeting that the country will "speak loud and clear" when EU ministers of Justice and Interior gather Thursday.
The French government is urging the EU parliament to authorize a common passenger name record for the bloc. The database contains details on air travelers, such as their names and destinations.
France wants the members of Europe's passport-free Schengen area to improve their exchange of intelligence. It also wants the fight against the illegal trafficking of weapons to be on the agenda of the meeting.
France had already called for these measures to be quickly implemented following Nov. 13 Paris attacks.
Belgium's interior minister submitted his resignation after unprecedented peacetime attacks on this country and revelations that one of the attackers had been flagged as a "foreign terrorist fighter," but the prime minister refused to accept it.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon said after a government meeting Thursday that "If you put all things in a row, you can ask yourself major questions" about the government's handling of the threat from Islamic extremists.
Tuesday's attacks exposed authorities' failures to prevent violence despite heightened concerns since the November Paris attacks, which were plotted from Belgium.
Turkey's president said Wednesday that one of the Brussels suicide bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was caught in June 2015 near Turkey's border with Syria and deported to the Netherlands, with Ankara warning Dutch and Belgian officials that he was a "foreign terrorist fighter." Turkish officials said he was later released from Dutch custody due to lack of evidence of involvement in extremism.
Jambon said: "I realized that in these conditions it was justified to offer my resignation to the premier."
Belgian prosecutors say that a suicide bomber who targeted the Brussels metro had rented a house used as a hideout for the Paris attackers, and that he had been hunted by police since December.
The statement Thursday by the federal prosecutors' office confirms the link between the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris and Tuesday's suicide bombings targeting the Brussels airport and subway system.
The statement says the Belgian magistrate investigating the Paris attacks issued European and international warrants for Khalid El Barkaoui on Dec. 11. It says he is suspected of renting a residence in Charleroi under an assumed name.
Several of the Paris bombers were Belgian or had links to Belgium.
The statement says police have conducted several raids since Tuesday's attacks and arrested one person who was subsequently released.
Belgium's prime minister is promising to do everything to determine who was responsible for deadly attacks targeting the Brussels airport and subway system.
Charles Michel, in a national mourning speech Thursday, said Tuesday's attacks on the European Union's capital targeted the "liberty of daily life" and "the liberty upon which the European project was built."
"Our country and our population were hit at its heart," he said in front of the Parliament building. He honored the "children who have lost their papas, who have lost their mamas" in the attacks, which killed at least 31 people and were claimed by Islamic State extremists.
"The cries of distress, the cries of pain, the scream of sirens, the apocalyptic images will remain engraved" on memories, he said — just like those of recent attacks in Paris, Mali, Tunisia and Turkey.
The lethal extremist attack in Belgium has sparked a pitched debate in Britain over whether the UK would be safer if it votes to leave the European Union.
Both sides in the upcoming June 23 referendum debate claimed the attacks in Brussels strengthened their position.
Intelligence figures and senior politicians seemed divided over the security issue, with former Secret Intelligence Service chief Richard Dearlove arguing that leaving the EU would make Britain more secure. He said it would free Britain from Europe's "freedom of movement" rules and give Britain more control.
But Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, insisted Thursday that a departure from the EU would make Britain more vulnerable because it would no longer have access to intelligence-sharing systems.
The issue has also divided Prime Minister David Cameron's Cabinet.
The international airport in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, has introduced new checks of passengers at the entrance to the terminal building as part of increased security following the attacks in Brussels.
Ivan Trhlik, director of the M.R.Stefanik airport, says passengers will be allowed to use only one entrance to the terminal and will immediately undergo a check at new security gates together with their luggage.
Trhlik said Thursday the measure is needed to ensure the safety of passengers. It could remain in place permanently.
Bratislava's is a relatively small airport with 1.56 million passengers using it last year. Authorities say if the new checks cause delays, passengers will be advised to arrive at the terminal one hour sooner than usual.
Hungary's interior minister says the government wants to limit phone calls in the vicinity of any future terror attack to prevent the overload of communications networks and avoid interference with emergency and rescue services.
Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said Thursday that civilians would be restricted to sending only text messages in areas affected by any attack. The concept's technical aspects would be developed jointly with the telecommunications companies.
Pinter said networks frequently collapse after attacks because of the large number of people wanting to get in touch with friends or relatives.
Pinter said another alternative would be to expand an exclusive radio network already used by police and the disaster management agency to other emergency services like firefighters, ambulances and hospitals.
The idea is part of a new package of anti-terrorism measures being discussed by the government that also seeks to grant intelligence services greater access to financial transactions and personal communications.
The driver of the subway train bombed in Brussels this week immediately helped victims despite the horror and fear of the attack — but he insists he's not a hero.
Christian Delhasse described to Belgian state broadcaster RTBF doing "what I had to do." He's reportedly already back at work, as the Belgian public transport system gradually gets back toward normal following Tuesday's deadly attacks at the Maelbeek station and Brussels airport.
Delhasse posted a statement on his Facebook page saying, "I'm a metro driver who did his work in specific circumstances. Any other driver in my place would have done the same thing. The heroes are our firefighters, our forces of order, our army."
He urged respect for "the victims we couldn't pull out."
The lawyer for the chief Paris attacks suspect says his client is not fighting extradition to France, which is seeking his extradition from Belgium to face potential terrorism charges.
Salah Abdeslam's lawyer, Sven Mary, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday that he asked for a one-month delay on any transfer while he studies the large dossier.
He said that Abdeslam "wants to leave for France as quickly as possible."
Abdeslam was captured in Brussels last week after four months on the run following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks on a stadium, rock concert and cafes that killed 130 people.
The chief suspect in last year's deadly Paris attacks is facing a hearing in Brussels, amid increasing signs that the same Islamic State cell was behind attacks in both cities.
Salah Abdeslam is scheduled to face magistrates Thursday morning after his arrest last week in the same Brussels neighborhood where he grew up. France is seeking his extradition to face potential terrorism charges for his involvement in the Nov. 13 attacks on a Paris rock concert, stadium and cafes, which killed 130 people. Several attackers were also killed.
European security officials say one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Brussels airport Tuesday is a suspected bombmaker for the Paris attackers.
A car accompanied by police left the prison in Bruges where Abdeslam has been held on Thursday morning.
Belgian state broadcaster RTBF and France's Le Monde are reporting that a second attacker is suspected of taking part in the bombing this week of a Brussels subway train and may be at large.
The media, citing unnamed sources, said Thursday the suspect was filmed by surveillance cameras in the Brussels metro on Tuesday carrying a large bag alongside Khalid El Bakraoui, whom prosecutors have identified as a suicide bomber. RTBF said it is not clear whether the second suspect was killed in the attack.
El Bakraoui's brother was identified as one of two suicide bombers who targeted the Brussels airport the same day in attacks that killed at least 31 people and injured more than 200.
Prosecutors did not immediately respond to the reports.
A previous version of this story corrects the name of the terror assessment authority chief to Paul Van Tigchelt, not Paul Zan Pigchelt.