Three men who are suspected of taking part in the attacks at Belgium's Zaventem Airport. The man at right is still being sought by the police, while the two others were suicide bombers.

Three men who are suspected of taking part in the attacks at Belgium’s Zaventem Airport. The man at right is still being sought by the police, while the two others were suicide bombers. AFP

EXCLUSIVE:
Attack in subway likely also known in advance by Belgian and Western agencies; attack plan was formulated at de-facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, in Syria.

Amos Harel Mar 23, 2016 6:10 PM
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The Belgian security services, as well as other Western intelligence agencies, had advance and precise intelligence warnings regarding the terrorist attacks in Belgium on Tuesday, Haaretz has learned.

The security services knew, with a high degree of certainty, that attacks were planned in the very near future for the airport and, apparently, for the subway as well.

Turkey’s president suggested that “One of the attackers in Brussels is an individual we detained in Gaziantep in June 2015 and deported. We reported the deportation to the Belgian Embassy in Ankara on July 14, 2015, but he was later set free,” Erdogan said. “Belgium ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter.”

Erdogan’s office confirmed that Bakraoui was deported to the Netherlands. It said he was later released by Belgian authorities as “no links with terrorism” were found. It was not clear when Bakraoui was handed over to Belgian authorities.

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Despite the advance warning, the intelligence and security preparedness in Brussels, where most of the European Union agencies are located, was limited in its scope and insufficient for the severity and immediacy of the alert.

As far as is known, the attacks were planned by the headquarters of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Raqqa, Syria, which it has pronounced as the capital of its Islamic caliphate.

The terror cell responsible for the attacks in Brussels on Tuesday was closely associated with the network behind the series of attacks in Paris last November. At this stage, it appears that both were part of the same terrorist infrastructure, connected at the top by the terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who was involved in both the preparation for the Paris attacks and its implementation.

Abdeslam escaped from Paris after the November attacks, hid out in Brussels and was arrested last week by the Belgian authorities.

Abdeslam’s arrest was apparently the trigger for Tuesday’s attacks, due to the concern in ISIS that he might give information about the planned attacks under interrogation, particularly in the light of reports that he was cooperating with his captors.

The testimony of the detained terrorist, alongside other intelligence information, part of which concerned ISIS operations in Syria, should have resulted in much more stringent security preparedness in crowded public places in Brussels, along with a heightened search for the cell.

Belgian military personnel and police stand guard around the Central Station following coordinated attacks at the city's airport and metro system, Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.

Belgian military personnel and police stand guard around the Central Station following coordinated attacks at the city’s airport and metro system, Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.AFP

 

As of now, the search is focused on the terrorist Najim Laachraoui, who created the explosive vests used by the bombers and escaped from the airport at the last moment.

There is concern, however, that other cells connected to ISIS in Western Europe will attempt to carry out additional attacks in the near future, either in Belgium or in other countries involved in the war against the terror organization in Syria and Iraq.

At least 31 people were killed and 260 wounded in the terrorist bombings at the Brussels airport and in the subway system on Tuesday. Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by ISIS.

Broken windows seen at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.

Broken windows seen at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. Reuters

Belgian authorities have named the two airport attackers as brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui. Laachraoui, who was photographed with the brothers at the airport and was observed fleeing the scene, is the subject of a massive manhunt.

Amos Harel
Haaretz Correspondent
Read more: http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/1.710572