Investigators Ask Public To Help Identify Possible Suspect In Belgium Attacks
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We are turning our attention this morning to a photo. It comes from the security cameras at the airport in Brussels. It is pretty grainy, but Belgian authorities say the three men in it carried out the deadly attack at the airport yesterday. We learned new information about the men in this photo during a press conference in Belgium a short while ago. And let's talk about that with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who is in Brussels and on the line. Soraya, good morning.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what's this prosecutor telling us?
NELSON: Well, he's saying that they don't know actually who two of the three men are but that one of them managed to get away. He's on the run, and there is a massive manhunt out for this guy. And the other one did blow himself up, but they haven't identified him. And then the second man, who blew himself up, is a man by the name of Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and his brother, Khalid, was identified as the bomber on the metro. As you remember, there was a third explosion.
The prosecutors said he detonated in the second car while it was standing at the station near the European Union buildings. Both of these brothers had criminal records, and authorities have been searching for them for more than a week following a raid on a Brussels apartment. And we also learned that there has been another arrest, according to the prosecutor, but he didn't identify who it was, although it wasn't the would-be airport bomber, who, again, they're searching for.
GREENE: OK. So at this point, it sounds like four people, three of them we believe are dead. There's a manhunt out for one of those attackers at the airport; all of this happening in what must be a really tense time in the city of Brussels.
NELSON: Indeed, it's very, very sad here and there are three days of mourning going on. And a minute of silence was observed across the country at noon local time. But there was one place that was a little more active and that was Brussels Central Station earlier this morning. Trains, buses and even the metro are running at least in part, but there weren't a whole lot of commuters. And those who were out said that they found it hard to get around because several stations remain closed. And this is what I found when I went out there this morning.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: IC train to London, track one - this train will exceptionally not be stopping at Brussels airport.
NELSON: One commuter is Ilse Eechout. She's a civil servant with the Belgian police.
ILSE EECKOUT: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: The 32-year-old says it makes sense few people would be out given how scared everyone was yesterday. But she says we have to keep on living, so we do it. That's what finance ministry worker Daniel Jery says too, even though his wife and parents begged him to stay home.
DANIEL JERY: We have a world war right now and we - if the life is to continue, we cannot change anything unfortunately.
NELSON: Outside the Brussels Stock Exchange last night, Belgians were more defiant. They gathered to light candles and lay flowers to honor those killed and wounded. Others used chalk to write slogans and lyrics on the pavement, calling for love and national unity.
That's rather unusual in Belgium where the Flemish-speaking population and the French-speaking population are talking about splitting the country in two. Among those who came were Peter DeClerck and his girlfriend, Ruby Bernabeuplouse.
RUBY BERNABEUPLOUSE: We had the feeling that we should do something, but what can you do? So then we saw on Facebook that people are coming here and getting together, so we called up some friends and we got a beer. And we came and sat here for a while in the sun and then we went home. But again we had the feeling of what to do, so we came and got ourselves from some fries.
NELSON: The 23-year-old says she was surprised terrorists would attack Brussels, but DeClerck wasn't.
PETER DECLERCK: It happened in Paris. It happened in London, in Barcelona, so why wouldn't it happen in Brussels? And definitely when you hear that a lot of the terrorists from the Paris attacks were born or living in Brussels then, yeah, you can expect it, I think.
NELSON: Across town at his home, Amerigo Conte also says he long felt Brussels was vulnerable to terror attacks. But the Italian university student says he was in denial when the first bomb went off at Brussels airport about 150 feet from where he had just checked in for his Rome flight.
AMERIGO CONTE: I see a lot of dust, but I wasn't really scared because - I don't know - I thought it was, like, a technical problem not a terrorist attack. And then, like, a few seconds after this, I heard, like, a really big noise, like, and then, like, everything was shaking. I was looking, like, in the roof, and the roof is falling apart. And the people were, like, screaming and running everywhere.
NELSON: Conte says he escaped the mayhem by following several airline personnel, who hurried through a side gate into an employee hall. From there, police ushered survivors outside onto the tarmac and eventually into a hangar. Conte says he won't easily forget the bond he developed with other survivors.
CONTE: There was this kind of humor at one point when we - especially when we went outside the airport and we were just walking. And people were saying, oh, this is going to keep us fit, you know? I mean, it was really like, you didn't feel so much tension. I felt really, like, part of a big group of people that were together in the same - in the same mess.
NELSON: So, David, he says he's still pretty shaken by yesterday's attacks, but says he won't let it stop him from going outside. In fact, he's planning to go to Rome later this week as soon as the airport opens up.
GREENE: Yeah, I remember, I mean, this is one of the things after the attacks in Paris, people trying to get back to normal life but really struggling to actually be able to get back to normal life. And I guess we have an entire continent right now, not just Belgium, that really is reacting to this and taking a lot of precautions, right?
NELSON: Yes, absolutely, they're in total shock. They are - they've instituted extra border checks, especially in the countries surrounding Belgium. And they're even talking about having the interior ministers meet here in Brussels on Thursday to talk about the issues and to figure out better cooperation and better ways of dealing with this.
And the German interior minister, among other things, is calling for better cooperation between European intelligence agencies because that's been a chronic problem that really has made it difficult to try and prevent these sorts of attacks.
GREENE: OK, lots to follow in the coming days as Europe deals with these attacks. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Brussels this morning. Soraya, thanks a lot.
NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.