Belgian brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui were today named as the two airport ISIS suicide bombers who murdered 14 people – eight days after escaping a shoot-out with police in Brussels.
The third member of the death squad – now known as the ‘Man in White’ – was named as Najim Laachraoui, a master bombmaker suspected of rigging up the suicide vests used in the Paris massacres.
The jihadists were named as police for the first time made a direct link between the atrocities in the French capital that killed 130 and the bombings at Brussels Airport and a Metro station that left 34 dead yesterday.
Laachraoui is still on the run after leaving a suitcase packed with explosives and calmly leaving the terminal moments before the massacre at 8am.
Just 79 minutes later a suicide bomber detonated his vest on a Brussels Metro train at Maelbeek station killing 20 people.
Laachraoui was already one of the world’s most wanted men, having built the suicide vests that helped kill 130 in Paris last November and went on the run with Salah Abdeslam before hiding in Brussels for four months.
And Khalid El Bakraoui rented the apartment where Paris terror attacker Salah Abdeslam was captured by anti-terror police last Friday, according to respected Belgium news organisation RTL.
Abdeslam’s arrest on Friday is believed to have sparked yesterday’s twin terror attacks on the Belgian capital that left at least 34 people dead, and police fear Laachraoui could be planning another attack in Belgium unless he is found.
All of the men were ‘well known’ to detectives and had been on the run for almost ten days following a shoot-out in a terrorist hideout in the Belgian capital’s Forest suburb. They opened fire on police and fled.
Yet they still managed to find another address to stay, where they stored the explosives and guns used in Tuesday’s attacks.
People fled towards the entrance of Brussels Zaventem Airport, a second much bigger blast in front of them brought down much of the ceiling and sent razor-sharp shrapnel, body parts and clouds of thick dust and smoke billowing through the building.
According to Belgian news website 7sur7, Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 for firing at police with an AK-47 assault rifle during a robbery.
Khalid was also given a five-year jail term in early 2011 for possessing AK-47s and committing a series of car-jackings, it was reported. It is not clear when they were released from prison.
Their use of Kalashnikovs, a signature weapon for ISIS and other extremist groups, will raise questions about why they were not monitored more closely by security services.
Belgian terror expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen says French prosecutor indicating that Abdeslam had started talking to police may have triggered attack
‘The three terrorists thought their network would be exposed and carried out their terrorplan before this happened as a pre-emptive move,’ he told Aftonbladet.
‘It happened today [Tuesday], maybe weeks or months before the planned date.
‘The French prosecutor should not have talked so much. He sent out the wrong signals to the ISSI network still intact in Europe, so it was high time for them to act and that’s exactly what happened.
‘The Belgian police investigation was leaking, and that’s why it happened now,’ he adds.
Belgian intelligence services are already under intense pressure to explain a number of failures that have allowed members of the ISIS cell to operate under their noses in the capital.
The brothers were the same two men that fled a Brussels police raid last week where police shot and killed Paris bombing suspect Mohamed Belkaid.
The raid carried out last Tuesday on a flat in the suburb of Forest saw a sniper kill Belkaid while the El Bakraoui brothers managed to escape police.
Police acted on a tip-off in connection to the Paris terror attacks, and carried out the raid in Forest, which is close to Molenbeek, where several jihadis behind the Paris attacks lived.
While there was initial speculation that the raid had aimed to capture Paris-terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested later in the week in a separate operation, this was later denied by a police spokesman.
Belkaid, an Algerian national who was illegally in Belgium, was found with an ISIS flag, AK-47 assault rifle and a book of jihadist literature next to his body.
At the time police said: ‘two persons [the El Bakraoui brothers] who were probably in the flat fled the scene and are being tracked down’.
Less than one week later, Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui carried out the terrorist attack at Brussels airport and as passengers queued to check in for flights at around 8am local time (7am GMT) the first blast rang out.
The taxi driver who drove the bombers to the airport led police to their hideout after the men refused to let him touch their luggage. After the explosions he contacted the authorities.
Armed police in vans and helicopters then flooded in the district of Shaerbeek, north-east Brussels and a nail bomb, chemicals and an Islamic State flag in a flat.
The disturbing discoveries were made as officers searched properties in the district of Shaerbeek, north-east Brussels, where two Paris suspects are believed to have lived in the wake of the attacks.
Photographs taken overnight show teams of armed officers preparing to enter a building in the area as helicopters flew over the scene, providing light and firearm cover for those on the ground.
Forensic teams later used laser lights to search for clues and left the heavily guarded premises with evidence bags.
Najim Laachraoui, a newly-identified ISIS suspect whose DNA was found on bombs used in the Paris terror attacks, had rented a suspected hideout in Schaarbeek.
And Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam is believed to have been holed up in an apartment in Schaerbeek for three weeks after the massacre in France.
‘The searches that took place in the Schaerbeek (district) found an explosive device containing among other things nails,’ the federal prosecutor said in a statement.
‘Investigators also discovered chemicals and a flag of the Islamic State,’ the statement added.
Incredibly, Abdeslam – arrested on Friday, may have been hiding in nearby Molenbeek for four months since the deadly Paris terror attacks.
And there another suspect – named as Amine Choukri – was arrested by Belgian anti-terror police when he was found living with Abdeslam having entered Europe via Greece.