As the dust settles at the Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station, some of the facts are starting to emerge. The massacres in Paris and now in Brussels were planned in Raqqa, Syria, the “capital” of the Islamic State, and were carried out by a single jihadist cell. Moreover, the attacks were possible because of a series of tragic mistakes and omissions by the Belgian security services.
Wednesday night, the Turkish government indicated that one of the two airport suicide bombers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, was arrested in Turkey in June and extradited to Belgium, where he was later released for lack of evidence. The New York Times revealed that his brother, Khaled, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2011 for stealing a car, had been sought by Interpol since August.
How is it that they were not being closely monitored? The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported an additional detail: The Belgian services had received specific warnings about Tuesday’s attacks. They knew an attack at the airport and at the subway was imminent. But they did not put in place adequate intelligence and security measures.
The question now is: How many jihadists are missing? There’s at least one, the fourth bomber identified in security footage with Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam at a service station between Paris and Brussels after the attacks on France in November. But there could be many more. Syria may have returned as many as 90 foreign fighters to Belgium, though only 30 were blocked. We don’t know how big the support network is, especially in neighborhoods like Molenbeek.