A Belgian soldier taking part in a military patrol at Brussels Airport on 5 March 2016 is now reported to have recognised Khalid el Bakraoui, then a terrorist suspect, who would go on days later to blow himself up in an explosion at Maalbeek station on the Brussels metro on 22 March. The report comes in an answer from defence minister Didier Reynders to a written question from Open VLD senator Lionel Bajart.
The armed patrols at the airport were in response to the attacks in Paris in November 2015, and were accompanied by the distribution to members of police and military of a series of photographs of suspected or known terrorists who may have been connected to those attacks.
El Bakraoui was spotted by one of the members of a patrol, and the information passed on to the police, but they were unable to find the man. Members of the military do not themselves have the power of arrest in such circumstances.
Senator Bajart referred to the annual report of the I Committee – the body that oversees the operations of military and civilian intelligence – which discussed the passage of information during the military operation then in force, known as Operation Vigilant Guardian or OVG. One of the problems highlighted by the Committee was the existence of two reports of the presence of men who would later go on to commit the attacks in Brussels and Zaventem on 22 March. It is not clear whether the sightings were of two different men or two sightings of El Bakraoui.
While Khalid el Bakraoui blew up the metro train and himself, his brother Ibrahim was one of two men who an hour earlier set off two bombs in the departures hall of Brussels Airport. Fifteen innocent people died that morning at the airport, and 14 at the metro station, with four more dying later of their injuries. Three suicide bombers were killed, and more than 300 people were injured in all.
Reynders, who took over the post as defence minister when N-VA quit the government last year, told the senator that information streams had now been improved within the SGRS/ADIV information and security agency, with a documentalist who coordinates all intelligence for sharing with security partners, as well as a coordinator for anti-terrorist actions.
The Brussels Times