Europe News

Belgian minister blames police for bomb suspect blunder

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s interior minister blamed police negligence on Friday for failing to track an Islamic State militant expelled by Turkey last year who blew himself up at Brussels airport on Tuesday.

Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon stands prior to a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Confronted with the disbelief of the Belgian parliament at a special session, Interior Minister Jan Jambon, who offered to resign over the issue on Thursday, said that while he took political responsibility, “someone has been negligent, and was not sufficiently proactive.”

“Someone in our police apparatus blundered,” he said.

Belgian authorities are facing embarrassment after Turkey said on Wednesday that Ankara expelled Ibrahim El Bakraoui back to Europe last July, warning that he was a militant. Bakraoui was one of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks on Tuesday.

Belgian and Dutch authorities had been notified of Turkish suspicions that he was a foreign fighter trying to reach Syria.

At the time, Belgian authorities replied that Bakraoui, who had skipped parole after serving less than half of a 10-year sentence for armed robbery, was a criminal but not a militant and sought more information from Turkey.

Jambon said Bakraoui was caught in Turkey near the Syrian border on June 11, 2015.

Turkey informed the Belgian embassy that he would be put on a plane to Amsterdam on July 14 last year, where he was not arrested because Dutch police had not received any instruction to do so from their Belgian counterparts.

Jambon said the Belgian police liaison officer at the embassy in Turkey only told police in Belgium six days later, on July 20, that Bakraoui had been detained in Turkey on suspicion of terrorism.

The official then sought further confirmation about Bakraoui from Turkish authorities, reporting back with the reply six months later on Jan. 11.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop