Terror in Brussels: A Wounded City Searches for Answers
The attacks in Brussels have similarities to the assault on Paris last November. Investigators believe there may be a connection and think the Tuesday airport and subway bombings may be an act of revenge for the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.
"What we feared has happened," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Tuesday in response to the terrorist attacks in Brussels. More than two dozen people were killed and many more injured. Police are now searching for the perpetrators, who may still be at large in the Belgian capital.
Who could be responsible for the attacks?
At the moment, there isn't conclusive information about who is behind the attack. In an English-language text released on Tuesday afternoon, the Islamic State terrorist militia claimed responsibility for the attack, but it did not provide any specific details or names that might help to verify the authenticity of the claim. That, though, is not unusual.
The blueprint followed by the perpetrators suggest the hallmarks of an IS attack. The Belgian federal prosecutor has confirmed that two of the explosions were set off by suicide bombers, reminiscent of the attacks carried out by IS jihadists in Paris last November. Several of the perpetrators in that assault wore explosive belts.
Security officials are also considering the possibility that the Brussels attacks may have been a retaliatory act in response to the arrest in Belgium on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspected perpetrators of the Paris attacks. He was arrested in the city's gritty Molenbeek district, a hotbed of Islamist radicals. The neighborhood was also home to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who led the IS group in Paris.
If indeed this group was responsible, it would mark the first time that a jihadist cell in Europe was able to carry out multiple attacks. "When it comes to speed, networking and determination, we could find ourselves facing a new quality of Islamist terror," says one German state security official.
Are there concrete clues as to the identities of the terrorists?
With the help of footage from an airport surveillance camera, Belgian officials are now looking for three suspicious men. Two of them are wearing black jackets, and have gloves on their left hands. The third is wearing a beige jacket and a dark hat. Each is seen pushing a luggage cart. Thus far, it isn't clear who they are.
Why was Belgium targeted?
IS has issued repeated threats in the past that it would target politicians and institutions in Belgium. In May 2014, an attack was carried out on the Jewish Museum of Belgium, located in Brussels.
Germany, with a population of 81 million, has seen 800 people join the jihad in Syria. Yet even in Germany, with its vastly larger number of law enforcement and intelligence officials, the magnitude of the Islamist terror threat has pushed the security apparatus to the edge of its abilities -- and beyond.
Who might the accomplices be?
According to investigators, the recently arrested Islamist Abdeslam may have pick up possible accomplices in both Hungary and Germany. In early September, two months before the attacks in Paris, he drove in a rental car to Budapest, apparently to pick up two co-conspirators and bring them to Belgium. Both of them were in possession of falsified Belgian identification papers. One of them is Najim Laachraoui, 24, who is still on the loose. Criminal forensics experts later found his DNA in a Brussels apartment where traces of TATP explosives of the type used in Paris were also discovered.
According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, Abdeslam also picked up Amine Choukri and two additional men in Ulm, Germany at the beginning of October and likely brought them to Brussels. German public broadcasters SWR and ZDF have also reported on the incident.
Investigators are particularly interested in Choukri because his fingerprints were found in a Brussels apartment, the renter of which was in possession of an alarming film. The 10-hour long video, shot by a surveillance camera, shows the front door of a home lived in by an official working at a Belgian nuclear site. Security personnel were instantly alarmed: Were the Islamists trying to get their hands on radioactive material?
It is a question that has not yet been answered.
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