police leave after an investigation in a house in the Anderlecht neighbourhood in Brussels, . Photo / AP

Link to Paris attack
The suspected bombmaker in the Paris attacks in November was one of two suicide bombers who targeted the Brussels airport, officials confirmed, in a new sign that both attacks are linked to the same cell of Isis (Islamic State).
The revelation that Najim Laachraoui was among the bombers came as the country remained on high alert as authorities hunted for one of the suspected attackers seen on surveillance video with Laachraoui and one other suicide bomber, Ibrahim El Bakraoui.
Belgian authorities had been looking for Laachraoui since last week, suspecting him of being an accomplice of top Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested on Saturday NZT.
Two officials told AP that Laachraoui’s DNA was verified as that of one of the suicide bombers, after samples were taken from remains found at the blast site at Brussels airport. Both officials were briefed on the investigation.
Laachraoui is believed to have made the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks, a French police official told AP, adding that Laachraoui’s DNA was found on all of the vests as well as in a Brussels apartment where they were made.
Turkish warning ignored
Turkish authorities said they had caught one of the suicide bombers near the Turkish-Syrian border in July and sent him back to the Netherlands, warning both that country and Belgium that he was a “foreign terrorist fighter”.
But a Turkish official said the bomber was allowed to go free because Belgian authorities could not establish any ties to extremism.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui was detained in Turkey last June and deported a month later. Belgium’s justice minister said authorities there knew him as a common criminal, not an extremist, and that he was sent back to the Netherlands, not Belgium.
“Belgium ignored our warning that this person is a foreign fighter,” Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said.
Did taxi dispatcher mix-up limit bombing?
A mix-up by a Brussels taxi dispatcher may have prevented more carnage at the city’s airport, Belgium’s DH newspaper reported, saying the cab firm sent a smaller car to pick up the bombers than the one ordered.
Citing unidentified sources, DH said Ibrahim El Bakraoui and two other men suspected of carrying out the attack had called for a minivan to take them to Zaventem airport, laden with bags, from an apartment in the north of the city.
When the driver turned up in a saloon, the three found they could not fit all four heavy holdalls into the trunk. They left one behind.
Two men blew themselves up in the airport’s departure hall and the third ran off, leaving the heaviest explosive device which security services later detonated.
After the taxi driver called police to relate the tale, they found a large nail bomb in the apartment in the borough of Schaerbeek and defused it. Police had no comment on the report.
“What would have happened if all the explosive devices found in the Schaerbeek search had been taken to Zaventem?” DH asked.
Neighbours in shock
Neighbours of two brothers who committed suicide attacks in Brussels are expressing shock and bewilderment at what happened.
John Valderrama lived across the hall from the brothers in the Schaerbeek neighborhood, but says he never heard anything suspicious. He said he only saw one person come in or out of the fifth-floor apartment.
He was surprised when hours after the attacks, police burst into the brothers’ apartment, where they discovered a large cache of TATP explosives.
Valderrama says “when I saw them I went ‘Whoa!”
Another neighbour, Erdine, said he was about to drive his son to school when he saw two people carrying heavy bags out of the building.
The 36-year-old, who declined to give his last name due to the situation, says he saw a cab driver open his trunk. He says “the taxi driver tried to get the luggage. And the other guy reached for it like he was saying, ‘No, I’ll take it.”‘
Prosecutors say the taxi driver tipped them off to the Schaerbeek address after the attacks.
Explosive easy to make
An expert says the explosive linked to the Brussels attacks is preferred among violent extremists in because it’s fairly easy to make and detonate.
Belgium’s chief prosecutor has said that investigators found 15kg of the explosive known as TATP at the house where the suspects stayed before going to the airport. TATP also was used in the Paris attacks last year.
Jimmie Oxley is an explosives expert and University of Rhode Island professor. She describes TATP as a volatile, sensitive explosive.
She says the materials are readily available and it’s fairly easy to make a functional device.