In a report released today, United States intelligence agencies confirm that the el-Bakraoui brothers – two of the Brussels bombers – were known to U.S. government agencies, and they were on watchlists prior to the Brussels attacks. The bombshell admission is just the second of its kind, after Turkey admitted that they too knew that the el-Bakraoui brothers were dangerous and that they’d been deported to Brussels months prior to the attacks.
Sources speaking with Reuters confirmed that United States intelligence agencies had placed Khalid el-Bakraoui and Brahim el-Bakraoui on U.S. government counterterrorism watchlists, prior to the March 18 arrest of Salah Abdeslam. Khalid el-Bakraoui was the bomber who carried out a suicide attack at Brussels’ Maelbeek Metro station, and Brahim el-Bakraoui was one of two suicide bombers present at the Brussels Zaventem Airport, reports NBC News.
According to two anonymous United States officials close to the security community, Khalid el-Bakraoui and Brahim el-Bakraoui were on counterterrorism watchlists as a result of their criminal histories and their travel patterns – which included visits to Syria. Precisely what United States intelligence sources knew about the Brussels bombers before the fatal bombing this past week is unknown. But NBC News confirms that the el-Bakraoui brothers were “known” to U.S. intelligence agencies.
The revelation comes just as authorities in Brussels have stepped up the search for the previously unidentified Brussels attacker, the infamous “man in white” who appears in CCTV footage to be wearing a white coat, black hat, and a pair of glasses. He has yet to be named by Brussels authorities, but Belgian officials confirmed to Express that he has been identified, and that he was in the Brussels terror watchlist.
After Turkey’s similar admission that the el-Bakraoui brothers were known to have suspicious ties in Syria, Belgian security services in Brussels confirmed that a “mistake was made” and that an opportunity to prevent the attacks “had been missed,” after authorities in Brussels had been notified that the el-Bakraoui brothers were potentially dangerous.
“You can ask how it came about that someone was let out so early and that we missed the chance to seize him when he was in Turkey, I understand the questions,” said Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon.
The Belgian government has lowered the terror threat level in Brussels from its highest level to its second highest after the discovery of the identity of the unknown Brussels bomber, the man in white. It remains to be seen whether or not Brussels authorities will apprehend the man soon, or if they believe he has fled the country and no longer poses a threat to the people of Brussels, or the people of Belgium.
“In the circumstances, it was right to take political responsibility and I offered my resignation to the Prime Minister,” said Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon, who took responsibility for failing to take action on the intelligence from Turkey.
In response to the failure of the Belgian intelligence community to respond to the warning from Turkey – it’s unknown whether the United States warned Brussels about the el-Bakraoui brothers despite having them on watchlists – two Belgian ministers have offered to step down.
“The Prime Minister told me in the current situation, in time of war, you cannot leave the field,” said Interior Minister Jan Jambon, reporting that the Belgian prime minister has declined to accept his resignation amid reports that Belgian intelligence had been warned about the el-Bakraoui brothers but took no action to arrest or detain them.
It remains unclear, however, if the United States shared its intelligence on the Brussels attackers with the Belgian interior ministry prior to the attacks.
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