Just days after the manhunt for Salah Abdeslam ended with the Paris fugitive’s capture in the Muslim enclave of Molenbeek, another frantic search is underway in Belgium.
This time police are looking for an as yet unidentified man wearing a white collared shirt and dark bucket hat who was captured on camera pushing a luggage trolley through the Brussels airport today alongside the two men who are suspected of having blown themselves up as part of the coordinated terrorist attacks that rocked the city on Tuesday morning.
Although there are still far more questions than answers, we now have bit more in the way of detail as to what happened just before the attacks.
Based on surveillance video footage, we know the three men arrived at the airport in a taxi and while the two men on the left in the picture shown above apparently died in the attack (the gloves seen on their left hands are thought to hide triggers), the third man apparently fled the scene.
The suitcase on his trolley was later located by Belgian police and detonated.
“They came in a taxi with their suitcases, their bombs were in their bags,” Francis Vermeiren, the mayor of Zaventem said. “They put their suitcases on trolleys, the first two bombs exploded. The third also put his on a trolley but he must have panicked, it did not explode.” US officials say it’s more likely that the third man’s escape was planned.
The ensuing manhunt led police to a residence in Schaerbeek where a nail bomb, chemicals, and an ISIS flag were reportedly discovered.
Several sources contend that the taxi driver who delivered the men to the airport led police to the home where the items were discovered.
According to The Mirror, the driver told officials he had tried to help the men with their bags "but was abruptly ordered not to touch their luggage". Other reports suggest he told authorities he was alarmed at how heavy their bags seemed.
"Based on what we found after the attacks, we had some information and we did a lot of house searches today," Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon told CNN. Belgian security sources also said the "working assumption" is that the men come from the same cell that orchestrated the Paris attacks. In other words, the dark legacy of Abdelhamid Abaaoud lives on.
Indeed, Abdeslam may have built upon the remnants of Abaaoud's cell. "We have seen a new network of people around him in Brussels,” Belgian authorities told AP after his arrest last week. Some observers now believe his arrest may have compelled the group to pull forward a planned attack for fear that they would be arrested before they had a chance to act. "The bombings came days after Belgian officials warned of possible attacks following the arrest in a Brussels shootout on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, the only known survivor of 10 Islamist attackers who killed 130 people in a string of suicide bombings and shootings in Paris in November," The Guardian wrote, earlier today.
There had been "chatter" related to today's attack dating as far back as "3-4 weeks ago," MSNBC said.
Meanwhile, the front pages of Wednesday's Belgian newspapers are beginning to surface. Here are a few examples:
Niet vergeten: om 17 uur een speciale editie van de tabletkrant. Vrije toegang voor iedereen. pic.twitter.com/otL5EZh1Az— De Tijd (@tijd) March 22, 2016
Expect ongoing raids throughout Brussels as police desperately attempt to track down the third suspect in the airport bombings and as authorities rush to head off what even PM Charles Michel admits are likely to be "more" black days to come.
As for ISIS, the group says what's coming next "is worse."
* * *
Official ISIS statement