Belgian special forces units are searching for Najim Laachraoui

By Peter Mikelbank
Updated March 23, 2016 06:55 AM
Credit: Belgium Federal Police

A massive manhunt is underway for the third Brussels bombing suspect pictured on airport surveillance footage.

Najim Laachraoui has been identified as the surviving suspect from the Brussels airport attack, according to Belgian media. Reports emerged early Wednesday that Laachraoui had been captured in a special forces raid, though Belgian news sources later said that the arrested man was misidentified and that the bombing suspect is still at large.

Police and prosecutors have not commented on the reports and are due to hold a news conference on Wednesday.

Twin rush-hour bombings in Brussels on Tuesday morning killed 32 people and wounded 270. At least nine Americans were injured, including three Mormon missionaries and a U.S. Air Force officer and his family.

Laachraoui is allegedly one of three suspects pictured in surveillance footage at the Brussels airport before two explosions ripped through the departures hall about 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Authorities say that his two alleged accomplices, identified as brothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui, died in suicide blasts at the airport, according to the Washington Post.

Both Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam and Laachraoui are believed to have ties. Belgian authorities believe Laachraoui fled police raids last week with Abdeslam. The raids, in which four officers were shot, killed terrorism suspect Mohamed Belkaïd, who is widely suspected of involvement in the planning and financing of the Paris attacks.

Initial reports identify Brahim as the suspect shown in the middle of the three men caught on surveillance cameras at Brussels Airport before Tuesday’s blast. His brother Khalid, multiple media reports say, has been identified as the suspect involved in bombing the Maalbeek Metro Station in Brussels about an hour after the airport blast. That explosion killed 20 and injured 55. Khalid, 27, was identified as having rented an apartment – under an alias – that was raided by police last Friday in the search for Abdeslam, according to CBS News.

The brothers were previously known to Brussels police for criminal activity.

The el-Bakraouis have been subject to a wide police hunt since the shoot-out last week.

In October 2010, the elder brother, Brahim, was sentenced to prison for armed robbery. The next year, Khalid was sentenced to five years for car-jacking, according to NBC News.

The three suspected bombers arrived at the Brussels airport by taxi, according to Zaventem Mayor Francis Vermeiren, who was at the airport immediately following the attacks and remained throughout the day. According to surveillance tapes, Vermeiren says, the trio brought their bombs to the airport in suitcases, wheeling them through on luggage carts.

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Video images also show one of the suspects abandoning his luggage cart and running off.

Speaking to BFM-TV, Vermieren said that the suitcase found on that cart did not explode.

Police conducted a series of searches throughout yesterday and overnight in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels.

According to Reuters, the authorities were quickly able to pinpoint the address after a taxi driver came forward.