Belgian officials have captured one of the key members of the Islamist terrorist cell responsible for the attacks in Brussels yesterday — and more. Initial reports identify the suspect as the ISIS cell’s master bombmaker Najim Laachraoui, and the two dead suicide bombers as brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el Bakraoui. CBS News issued this special report that identified Laachraoui as the man captured, not just for the Brussels attack but also for his role in the Paris attacks as well:
The Washington Post casts some initial doubt on that identification:
Authorities captured a suspect linked to the Brussels bloodshed Wednesday following a massive manhunt, as details emerged of the suicide attackers: two brothers who brought chaos and bloodshed to the city at the heart of European unity, according to two senior European officials.
The identity of the arrested suspect was not immediately released. Belgian media reported that the suspect was 24-year-old Najim Laachraoui, whom European security officials had previously described as a suspected Islamic State bombmaker.
One senior Belgian official said that an arrest had been made in connection to the probes into Tuesday’s attacks that left at least 31 people dead in bombings at the Brussels Airport and a metro station. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.
But that official, as well as another European intelligence official familiar with the case, said that Laachroaui was not the person arrested. The reason for the conflicting reports was not immediately clear.
However, the prosecutors did confirm that Laachraoui was the man in custody:
Belgian federal prosecutor confirms Najim Laachraoui has not been arrested, despite earlier media reports https://t.co/lpW4gGL0Zs
— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) March 23, 2016
With Laachraoui’s capture comes some questions. He’s been wanted since December for the Paris attacks, but got captured within 24 hours of the Brussels attacks? Perhaps the capture of Salah Abdeslam — his close associate — gave authorities the information needed to find the bombmaker for this ISIS cell, but the sudden success after months of failure seems a bit odd. Still at large: one of the apparent bombers, one authorities believe did not commit suicide, and whose picture from surveillance video is rapidly becoming as well known in Europe as those of the 9/11 hijackers here in the US. Prosecutors emphasized in their press conference today that there are a number of other suspects that they want to track down, too.
BREAKING: Belgian authorities say several people possibly linked to attacks are still at large.
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 23, 2016
Meanwhile, the former Home Secretary of the UK gives his former constituents a cold dash of reality about terrorism in an open society:
Terrorists “will get through” the UK’s defences to carry out an attack similar to that in Brussels, former home secretary Lord Reid has told the BBC.
He said: “Politicians ought to be honest with the British people and tell them, ‘This will happen.'” …
Lord Reid, who was Labour home secretary until shortly before the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “It will happen here because the terrorists only have to get through once.
“So you can quote the statistics on how many plots have been foiled, but the terrorists will get through.”
Lord Reid said terrorists were now more likely to focus on “soft targets” like the transport network and crowded public places, because the security services had been so successful at preventing “spectacular” plots, for example, mid-flight attacks on aircraft.
That has always been the case. Western governments have largely succeeded so far in hardening airline travel, but only by making the process much less open and by infringing on the rights of travelers, regardless of how necessary or well-intentioned those infringements might be. This is precisely why George W. Bush argued from 9/11 onward that it was necessary to use a forward strategy against terror networks like al-Qaeda and ISIS, using our military to fight terrorists on their home turf rather than having civilians defending against them on ours. The level of security needed to guarantee defense against terrorism is incompatible with open societies and free Western-style republics.
The death toll appears to be holding at either 31 or 34, depending on sources cited, but that’s not necessarily a firm number yet. Many are still missing, including an American couple from Nashville, last seen at the airport in Brussels:
Expect those numbers to go up considerably in the next few days, but pray that they will not and that the missing will be located alive. Here’s one final story of a “miracle” American survivor: