Two days after IS attacks on Brussels, European Union ministers are trying to overcome their divisions and convince citizens that they can stop the wave of terrorism as police hunt for a new suspect possibly involved in the bombings.
As Belgian police continue their search for the surviving perpetrators, EU interior ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday afternoon to assess counter-terrorism and airport security after explosions at the airport and a subway station left 31 dead and about 300 injured.
A man was seen by surveillance cameras carrying a large bag shortly before the subway blast, Belgian state broadcaster RTBF reported on Thursday. His identity, and whether he survived the blast, is unknown. Investigators, who have identified two of the suicide bombers as brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui—one on the metro and one at the airport—said on Wednesday they had found explosive materials in a hideout in northern Brussels—including 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of TATP, 150 liters of acetone, 30 liters of hydrogen peroxide, detonators, a bag of nails and plastic trays, prosecutors said.
They also found a will in a nearby rubbish bin, written by Ibrahim on a computer; he described himself as “frantic, not knowing what to do, being hunted everywhere,” federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw told reporters.
Following two attacks on civilians in Paris last year, the Brussels murders exposed how difficult it is to track the sheer number of suspected radicals. Germany, up to now spared from a large-scale attack, said it has files on 450 dangerous extremists.
Many European-born radicals have spent time in Syria undergoing terror training by the IS, which claimed responsibility for the Brussels atrocities.
A second suicide bomber at the airport has been identified as Najim Laachraoui, Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported on its website. Laachraoui left for Syria in 2013 and was stopped on the Austria-Hungary border in September while traveling with Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week as a suspect in the Paris massacres in November that left 130 people dead.
Setting the stage for likely recrimination over the EU’s struggle against terrorism at the ministers’ meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference on Wednesday that one of the Brussels attackers had previously been caught in Gaziantep, in eastern Turkey, and then deported.
Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said on VRT television he couldn’t confirm whether Belgium was aware of Turkey’s warning about Ibrahim as he was expelled to the Netherlands.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, blew himself up at the airport while his brother Khalid, 27, carried out the subway bombing. The Brussels-born brothers, both Belgian citizens, had an “extensive criminal record, but not related to terrorism,” prosecutor Van Leeuw said.
Only a short walk from the bombed station, EU leaders have met again and again over recent months in a continuing struggle to forge a united and effective response to the influx of refugees, terrorism and weak economic growth. But virtually each summit has been plagued by divisions.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, urged leaders to apply decisions taken even several years ago. In an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, he recalled summits in 1999 and 2001—after the Sept. 11 attacks in the US—at which leaders had “sworn to each other” that secret services should share intelligence fully. “I note that up to today, these exchanges have been ‘parsimonious,’ to put it carefully,” Juncker said.
Belgium held a nationwide minute of silence on Wednesday and Prime Minister Charles Michel and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls laid a wreath in honor of the victims at the subway station. Thousands gathered at the 19th century stock exchange in the city center and scrawled messages in chalk on the pavement as the country observed three days of mourning.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to Brussels on Friday to express condolences and support in the attack investigation, the State Department said. Terrorist groups continue to plan “near-term events” throughout Europe, though the US has no knowledge of a specific threat there, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing in Washington.
The transport system in Brussels began to return to operation, with one of the two main subway lines reopening and tram and bus services reinstated. The airport will still be closed on Friday as investigators collect evidence and struggle to identify the dead.
A failed airport bomb had the most explosive power and didn’t go off until later, after army disposal experts moved in.
Belgian media reported that the lethal paraphernalia found in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels was left behind because the culprits ordered a minivan from a local taxi service and had to make do with the smaller sedan that was sent to pick them up instead.