Brussels attacks trial: Bombings were plotted mere day in advance, audio reveals

During Wednesday's hearing in the ongoing 2016 Brussels terror attacks trial, investigators presented an audio message revealing that the attacks were planned a mere day in advance. Suicide terrorists Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui were acting "out of fear of rotting away in a cell," the recovered recording unveils.

Since December 2022, ten defendants are standing trial in Belgium for the 2016 Brussels terror attacks, which left 32 people killed and around 340 injured. The Court is currently considering evidence found on a laptop retrieved from a rubbish bin near one of the terrorists' safehouses.

The laptop proved to be a goldmine for investigators, who were able to recover audio messages recorded on the computer. They include a message sent the day before the bombings to Oussama Atar, the man who allegedly ordered the attacks.

In the 21 March 2016 recording, suicide terrorists Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui explain that they have decided to carry out the attacks the following morning. Laachraoui speaks of "five direct suicide attacks by bomb" at Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek metro station. El Bakraoui says they are acting "out of fear of rotting away in a cell".

In the preceding days, Belgian police and media had been closing in on the terror cell. On 16 March 2016, photographs of the El Bakraoui brothers appeared in the newspaper La Dernière Heure, incorrectly identifying them as the two men who fled the scene of a house search that escalated into a shooting a day earlier. Terror suspects Salah Abdeslam and Sofien Ayari were arrested on 18 March 2016.

The terror cell had "many plans" and "many ideas" but had to act quickly now, the recording reveals. Laachraoui explains how they chose Brussels Airport as a target because "a brother" told them about US, Russian and Israeli flights on that particular morning. Due to the presence of soldiers and a shortage of loaders and weapons, they decided not to use Kalashnikovs but to deploy 130 kilograms of TATP. To maximise casualties, they plan to blend into the crowd and simultaneously detonate the explosives at the very last moment, Laachraoui explains.

In an earlier recording, Laachraoui appears calm, determined and orderly. In this recording, however, he is speaking fast and sounds agitated and nervous. Ibrahim El Bakraoui can be heard whispering instructions to him about what to say and ends up taking over.

Investigators suspect that defendant Mohamed Abrini was also present at the time of the recording, deputy chief investigator Frédéric Vanesse said on Wednesday. Abrini, however, does not appear in the recording. Investigators also believe the recorded message mentions defendants Bilal El Makhoukhi and Hervé Bayingana Muhirwa, referred to by the aliases Abu Imran and Amine.



Evidence displayed during the 2016 Brussels terror attacks trial, on 4 January 2023 © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK


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