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Brussels terror attack updates: 31 dead, 260 injured

A series of terrorist attacks struck Brussels early on Tuesday, March 22, leaving 31 dead and 260 injured.

Key details

  • Three explosions went off in the Belgian capital the morning of March 22: two in the Brussels airport and another in the Maelbeek metro station. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
  • Two of the suspected bombers have been identified as Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui. The brothers are believed to have died carrying out the attacks. A third suicide bomber was identified as Najim Laachraoui, who was previously linked to the Paris terror attacks in November 2015.
  • One suspect is still being sought by police.
  • The suspects were identified by a taxi driver who drove them to the airport. They had very heavy bags, and the heaviest one -- which turned out to contain the heaviest load of explosives -- had to be left behind because it didn't fit in the cab.

Confirmed: Najim Laachraoui, who was linked to Paris attacks, was one of the Brussels suicide bombers

Najim Laachraoui was one of the suicide bombers at Brussels Airport on Tuesday, a U.S. official said. He has previously been linked to explosives used in the Paris attacks in November.

“We have no reason to doubt” reports that he was killed, the official said. 

Police announced on March 21 that they were searching for Laachraoui in connection with the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. The announcement followed the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, who is accused of playing a key role in the Paris plot.

Laachraoui’s DNA has been linked to explosives used in Paris, the official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal matters. Laachraoui’s exact role in producing the Paris bombs is unclear, the official said, and he may not have been the only bombmaker.

Islamic State has trained 400 fighters to attack Europe, officials say

The Islamic State militant group has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terrorist cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage, the Associated Press has learned.

The network of agile and semiautonomous cells shows the reach of the extremist group in Europe even as it loses ground in Syria and Iraq. Officials, including European and Iraqi intelligence sources and a French lawmaker who follows the jihadi networks, described camps in Syria, Iraq and possibly the former Soviet bloc where attackers are trained to attack the West. Before being killed in a police raid, the ringleader of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks claimed to have entered Europe in a multinational group of 90 fighters, who scattered "more or less everywhere."

What we know so far

A recap of our coverage.

How the airport attacks unfolded

Belgian, French media identifying second airport suicide bomber

French newspaper Le Monde and Belgian newspapers De Standaard and La Libre are reporting that the second airport suicide bomber is Najim Laachraoui, whom police had been searching for in connection with the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. 

Two pictures of Najim Laachraoui released by Belgian Federal Police. (Belgian Federal Police)
Two pictures of Najim Laachraoui released by Belgian Federal Police. (Belgian Federal Police)

Brussels attacker was deported to Netherlands, not Belgium

An official in the Turkish president's office says the Brussels attacker who was deported from Turkey was Ibrahim El Bakraoui.

The official corrected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's account, saying El Bakraoui, who was caught in June at the Turkish-Syrian border, was deported in July to the Netherlands, not to Belgium.

Turkey says it warned both Belgium and the Netherlands that he was a "foreign terrorist fighter."

The official says Dutch authorities later allowed El Bakraoui to go free because Belgian authorities could not establish any ties to terrorism. The official cannot be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A Belgian prosecutor says El Bakraoui, a 29-year-old Belgian, blew himself up at the Brussels Airport on Tuesday.

Names of victims begin to emerge

So far, we know the identities of two people confirmed dead in the attacks.

Adelma Tapia Ruiz, 36, from Peru. 

Ruiz was at the airport with twin daughters and her Belgian husband, Christophe Delcambe, who was injured. She and the twins were going to visit her mother in New York.

She lived in Brussels for six years.

Leopold Hecht, 20. He was a law student at the Universite Saint Louis in Brussels.

"There are no words to describe our dismay in the face of this news," Rector Pierre Jadoul wrote on Facebook. "All our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones."

Many others have been reported missing. We'll update as we get more information.


Obama: Ted Cruz's counter-terrorism plan makes 'absolutely no sense'

 (Victor R. Caivano / Associated Press)
(Victor R. Caivano / Associated Press)

President Obama derided the idea of monitoring Muslim neighborhoods or conducting a “carpet bomb” campaign against the Islamic State, saying Wednesday that such proposals – made by GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz – would compromise American values while making “absolutely no sense” in the fight against terrorism.

Addressing ideas floated by Cruz since the bombings in Brussels, Obama said surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods would violate the principles of freedom that drew Cruz’s father to the U.S. from his home in Cuba – where Obama made a historic visit this week.

“I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Sen. Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free,” Obama said. “The notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense … and it’s not going to help us defeat ISIL,” he said, using an acronym for the terrorist group.

Obama made his remarks in a news conference with Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri, in Buenos Aires that was dominated by concerns about the attacks in Belgium. Obama said that fighting terrorism is his “number one priority,” insisting that the U.S. fight Islamic State “in an intelligent way.”

Whittier students witnessed attacks

Turkey: We deported Brussels attacker

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says one of the Brussels attackers was caught in Turkey in June and deported to Belgium.

Erdogan says Wednesday that the Belgian authorities released the suspect despite Turkish warnings that he was "a foreign fighter."

Erdogan did not name the attacker. He said the man was detained at Turkey's border with Syria at Gaziantep and that Turkey formally notified Belgian authorities of his deportation on July 14.

Erdogan says "despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, Belgium could not establish any links with terrorism."

Belgian king and queen visit victims at hospital

 (Nicolas Maeterlinck / AFP/Getty Images)
(Nicolas Maeterlinck / AFP/Getty Images)

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, left, and Belgium's Queen Mathilde and King Philippe visit a military hospital in Brussels on Wednesday where victims of the terror attacks are being treated.

Obama: We will defeat those who threaten our safety

Obama addressed the Brussels terror attacks in remarks from Argentina on Wednesday. "We can and will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of our people and of people around the world," he said.

The apartment where the terrorist suspects were picked up

 (Erik Kirschbaum / Los Angeles Times)
(Erik Kirschbaum / Los Angeles Times)

The final bomb

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said the third suspect left behind a big bag that turned out to be "the heaviest load of explosives." 

After authorities arrived, they carried out a controlled explosion of the bomb and "luckily no one was hurt," he said. 

The latest

 (Belgian Federal Police)
(Belgian Federal Police)

The suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Brussels airport and on a crowded metro train were two brothers of Belgian nationality, the country’s prosecutor said Wednesday.

A third suspect who fled the scene, leaving behind a massive bag laden with nails and explosives, is now the subject of a massive manhunt. He and a second man who died at the airport have yet to be identified.

Some fear Molenbeek is becoming 'the black sheep of the world'

Police detain a man in Brussels' Molenbeek district on March 19 who is believed to be connected to a suspect in the Paris attacks. Residents say the district shouldn't be demonized for the actions of a few. (Zouheir Ambar / Associated Press)
Police detain a man in Brussels' Molenbeek district on March 19 who is believed to be connected to a suspect in the Paris attacks. Residents say the district shouldn't be demonized for the actions of a few. (Zouheir Ambar / Associated Press)

For months, Salah Abdeslam was Europe's most wanted man. He was accused of helping plot the horrific November terrorist attacks carried out by a team of well-organized militants beneath officials' noses in Paris.

But when Abdeslam was finally captured last week, he wasn't caught with his alleged Islamic State associates in Syria. He was captured where he grew up, practically in plain sight of his hunters — in Brussels' working-class, largely Moroccan neighborhood of Molenbeek St. Jean.

Brussels Airport suicide bombers identified

Belgian police have identified two suicide bombers who blew themselves up at the Brussels Airport as brothers who had police records but until now had not been linked to terrorism, according to Belgium’s public television network RTBF.

Citing police sources, the network said brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui had been positively identified from images captured on a surveillance camera at the airport shortly before they detonated their bombs Tuesday morning. At least 30 people died and scores were injured in attacks on the airport and the Maelbeek metro station.

The third suspect in the airport attack, who was seen pushing a luggage cart at the airport next to the brothers, was still at large Wednesday morning.

Khalid El Bakraoui had used a false name to rent an apartment in Brussels where police killed a suspected terrorist in a raid last week, the network said. If confirmed, that would link Tuesday’s twin attacks on in the Belgian capital city to November’s terror attacks in Paris.

Police found an Islamic State flag in that apartment, an assault rifle, detonators and a fingerprint of the prime suspect in the Paris attacks: Salah Abdeslam, a breakthrough that led to his arrest three days later.

Google offers free calls to Belgium and Turkey

Google announced it is offering free calls via Hangouts, Hangouts Dialer or Google Voice to Belgium and Turkey to connect people with loved ones after the recent attacks. 

Users can call people on Belgium’s biggest mobile carriers — Lycamobile, Mobistar, Proximus and Telenet — as well as all landlines in Turkey. 

'Our darkest day'

As the day came to an end in Belgium, newspapers throughout the country began to share Wednesday morning's front pages. 

Belgian newspaper Het Belang van Limburg tweeted a copy of its cover, emblazoned with the words 'Our darkest day.'

Death toll uncertain

Authorities cannot yet give a precise death toll, Belgian federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw said in a news conference Tuesday. Conflicting death tolls were reported throughout the day, but more than 30 people are believed dead: at least 10 at the airport, and 20 at the metro station.

It took police some time to secure the scene at the airport because of concerns about explosives being hidden in other suitcases.

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