Belgian ministers under fire for intelligence failings over the deadly Islamic State suicide attacks on Brussels admitted “errors” and have offered to quit as the country lowered its terror alert following the bombings.
Belgium held moving ceremonies to mourn the victims of the suicide attacks on Brussels’ airport and metro on Tuesday, which struck the symbolic heart of Europe and have put security agencies across the continent on edge.
Prime Minister Charles Michel refused to accept the resignations of the interior and justice ministers after Turkey said it deported airport bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui and warned Belgium that he was a “terrorist foreign fighter”, but was ignored.
With criticism growing that international authorities failed to follow links between Tuesday’s bombings and the attacks on France in November, key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam insisted he was unaware of plans to strike the Belgian capital.
Police arrested Abdeslam just around the corner from his family home in Brussels on March 18, after he spent four months on the run as the last surviving member of the attackers who killed 130 people in Paris.
Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary said yesterday his client now did not want to fight extradition to Paris and insisted Abdeslam “didn’t know” in advance about the Brussels attacks.
But Belgium is reeling from revelations that three of the Brussels attackers — including Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid, who bombed Maalbeek metro station — were known to police and had strong links to Abdeslam.
Interior minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens both tendered their resignations yesterday over the claims that Ibrahim El Bakraoui had slipped through the net despite being arrested by Turkey near the Syrian border and deported to the Netherlands.
“There were errors at Justice and with the (Belgian) liaison officer in Turkey,” Jambon was quoted as telling the Le Soir daily.
Prosecutors meanwhile confirmed that Khalid El Bakraoui was the subject of an international warrant for terrorism in relation to the Paris attacks and had rented out a flat used by the Paris cell in the Belgian city of Charleroi.
Belgian authorities are now seeking a new suspect with a large bag seen talking to Khalid El Bakraoui on CCTV footage at Maalbeek station, who then did not get on to the train with the bomber, police sources told AFP.
(With inputs from agencies )