Links between Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels and the November Paris attacks are piling up as details emerge about the men identified as carrying out the Brussels bombings.
The connections seem to pivot around two men in particular, Najim Laachraoui and Salah Abdeslam, and the Brussels apartments they used to hide from the police and build bombs.
“It’s the same team,” Nathalie Goulet, a French senator and coleader of a parliamentary commission on studying jihadi networks, told Sky News on Thursday.
She said Abdeslam “probably had 10 more at hand who would be ready to do the same thing tomorrow morning,” describing the network as “like a scout troop … a troop of death.”
Laachraoui, 24, was apparently a bomb maker for ISIS before he detonated himself at Brussels Airport along with 30-year-old Ibrahim El Bakraoui on Tuesday.
Only one day before the Brussels attacks, which killed 31 and wounded nearly 300, Laachraoui had been named by Belgian officials as a suspected accomplice of Abdeslam in the November Paris attacks, which killed 130 people. Laachraoui is believed to have travelled to Austria from Hungary with Abdeslam in September.
Abdeslam was detained in a raid on Friday and charged in relation to the Paris attacks, and his lawyer insisted that his client “was not aware” that the attacks on Brussels Airport and a metro station in the government district were being planned.
But Abdeslam’s fingerprints were found in the Forest district of Brussels at one of the apartments authorities believe was rented by Khalid El Bakraoui — Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s brother — who killed 20 people when he detonated himself at the Maelbeek metro station.
Indeed, Abdeslam now appears so enmeshed with the Brussels attackers that investigators believe he would have been involved in the plot had he not been captured days prior — Belgian media is now reporting that Abdeslam had planned an attack on Brussels prior to his arrest.
Significantly, Khalid El Bakraoui was sought by Belgian prosecutors in connection to the Paris attacks months before the Brussels plot was carried out. Authorities reportedly issued a warrant for Khalid’s arrest in December, and they suspected that he had used a false name to rent a Brussels apartment in Charleroi and use it as a safe house for the Paris attackers.
Laachraoui’s DNA, meanwhile, was found on suicide vests used by the Paris attackers and in the Brussels apartment where they were made, a French police source told the Associated Press. He is believed to have made all of the suicide vests worn by the Paris attackers.
Will McCants, author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” noted that the extent of the Brussels suicide bombers’ connection to the Paris attacks — and to ISIS more broadly — rested largely on Laachraoui’s involvement, as the bomb maker “would have been their handler,” McCants told Business Insider on Wednesday.
A suicide note thought to be written by Ibrahim El Bakraoui offers further clues of a link between Abdeslam and the Brussels attacks. El Bakraoui apparently wrote in French that he was in “a bad situation” and that, if he did not act immediately, he would end up in a prison cell “like him” — authorities think “him” refers to Abdeslam.
“The note would confirm the speculation that the attackers moved up the timetable because Abdeslam was arrested,” McCants said.
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