Police raid in Brussels; Family confirms NYC siblings died in Brussels attacks
BRUSSELS, Belgium — A major police operation took place in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek, the same area from which a taxi driver on Tuesday picked up three men and brought them to Brussels Airport. There, two of those carried out suicide bombings while authorities think the other escaped; about an hour later, a fresh blast rocked a train near the Maelbeek metro station.
Heavily armed police pushed people from around a cordoned part of Schaerbeek. That closed-off area continually increased in size as more and more police cars rushed through.
Witnesses told CNN they heard two explosions, while others reported gunfire.
One man said that his son, who has a shop inside the closed-off area, saw an armed individual emerging from a metro shop who was then shot in the leg by police.
The operation ended with the arrest of one person linked to Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in the Belgian capital, Schaerbeek Mayor Bernard Clerfayt told Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.
The mayor said that arrested person was wounded. It was not immediately clear whether that individual was the same one the shopkeeper saw shot in the leg.
Authorities earlier conducted searches in Schaerbeek for several hours Thursday into Friday morning, sealing off streets for several blocks. At one point, masked teams in hazmat gear could be seen exiting a building and heading toward a police van.
And — acting on the taxi driver’s tip — they’d raided a Schaerbeek apartment days earlier and uncovered 15 kilograms of the explosive TATP, chemicals, a suitcase with nails and screws, an ISIS flag and other equipment meant to make explosives, according to Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw.
Van Leeuw also noted police found, on a computer in a nearby trash can, the will of one of the airport suicide bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui.
The family of two siblings who lived in New York City have confirmed that authorities confirmed they died in the terrorist bombings in Brussels.
Belgian authorities and the Dutch Embassy positively identified the remains of Alexander and Sascha Pinczowski.
The information was issued Friday by James Cain on behalf of the Pinczowski family. Cain is the father of Alexander’s fiancé, Cameron Cain.
He says the family is “grateful to have closure on this tragic situation.”
The siblings were on the phone with a relative at Brussels airport when the phone went dead.
They were Dutch nationals, according to officials in the Netherlands, but both apparently had lived in the U.S. for some time.
Both Pinczowskis lived in Manhattan, where Sascha studied at Marymount Manhattan College and worked as a production intern for an events company in Chelsea. Alexander was engaged to Cameron Cain – the daughter of former U.S. ambassador to Denmark Jim Cain – and was supposed to fly with her to Raleigh for a friend’s wedding this week, according to ABC.
A U.S. official told a television media pool reporter traveling with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Belgium that two Americans were killed in Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels. Kerry, when addressing reporters earlier Friday, referred to American deaths but did not give a number.
Can Europe stop the next attack?
These kinds of police actions suggest authorities’ urgency not only to learn more about what happened Tuesday in Brussels, but to prevent the next attack.
At least six people were arrested overnight in Belgium, while a man in France suspected of being in an “advance stage” of planning his own attack was also detained.
Investigators know of additional plots in Europe, in various stages of planning, linked to the same networks behind November’s Paris attacks and the latest ones in Brussels that left 31 people dead and 300 more wounded, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials. Those terrorists are tied to ISIS, the Islamist extremist group that’s taken over swaths of Syria and Iraq while also lashing out elsewhere around the world.
There’s also a growing feeling that those opposing ISIS (which, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pointed out in a news conference Friday in Belgium, is every country in the world) can do more. Some of this relates to continuing military efforts in the Middle East. Some has to do with better intelligence and cooperation among allies.
Belgium, especially, has come under fire. Interior Minister Jan Jambon offered to resign after acknowledging missed opportunities to stop one of the suicide bombers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui. And Prime Minister Charles Michel said he talked with Kerry about how “to do better (and) work together to be more efficient.”
Michel added, “We need to accept that we need to improve the fight against terrorism in Europe and in Belgium.”
Raids, roundup in Brussels
His government’s police forces detained at least six people overnight in raids around Brussels — the latest, but most likely not the last, such operations in the wake of Tuesday’s attacks.
Three people in a vehicle were taken into custody right outside the prosecutor’s office, public broadcaster RTBF reported. Two people were taken into custody in Brussels’ Jette neighborhood, and one person was detained in a different part of the Belgian capital.
On Friday morning, police conducted another raid in the Forest neighborhood of Brussels, leading to more arrests. But officials did not say how many people were detained in that operation.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office didn’t identify who was arrested, why they were apprehended or whether they will face charges. It said officials will determine later Friday whether some of those detained will remain in custody.
The tactic of detaining people first and asking questions later will likely become increasingly common, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem said.
“There will be lots more of them,” she said. “They are going to be what’s called over-broad. They are going to just try to find people or evidence that may stop the next terrorism attack, and they will figure out who they have under custody.”
Report: Man detained in German had revealing texts
Arrests were carried out beyond Belgium and France.
In Giessen, a German town about 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Frankfurt, police arrested a 28-year-old Moroccan man following a routine police check at a train station, German public broadcaster ARD reported Friday.
The ID check revealed that the man — a known delinquent in Italy and Germany, where he’s unsuccessfully requested asylum — is barred from much of Europe, according to the report. Another red flag came up later: He had checked into a hospital for an unspecified injury on March 18, the same day Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam was captured in a bloody raid in Brussels.
According to the ARD report, police later found a text message on the man’s phone that read “fin” (“end”) that came in a few minutes before the last Brussels explosion on Tuesday. Another text had the attackers’ names.
In fact, it is believed the Moroccan had direct contact with the Brussels attackers’ immediate network in the house before those blasts, ARD reported.
Belgian official: ‘We missed the chance’
Of the five suspects from the Brussels Airport and subway attacks, officials have publicly identified three: brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, and suspected ISIS bomb-maker Najim Laachraoui.
All three of those men are dead. And all three had been alerted to Belgian officials prior to the attacks.
Interpol, the world’s largest police organization with 190 member countries, issued a “red notice” for Laachraoui, saying he was wanted for involvement in association with terrorists and the unauthorized engineering of explosives.
Khalid El Bakraoui was also the subject of an Interpol red notice three months ago; he was wanted on suspicion of terrorism.
And his brother, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was in Turkey last June. Turkish authorities deported him for trying to join ISIS and sent him to Holland.
Dutch authorities said they received an email from Turkish officials 26 minutes before Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s flight — but it never mentioned Turkey’s concerns.
It wasn’t Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s first run-in with authorities. In October 2010, he was sentenced to nine years in prison in Belgium for opening fire on police officers during a robbery, according to broadcaster RTBF and CNN affiliate RTL. Obviously, he didn’t serve all that time.
Speaking about Bakraoui’s case, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon acknowledged Thursday, “It is justified that … people ask how it is possible that someone was released early and we missed the chance when he was in Turkey to detain him.”
Fates of 2 still unknown
The fates of the two other suspects — one from the airport blasts, the other from the subway — was still unknown Friday.
Belgian authorities haven’t named either man. One appears in other surveillance footage holding a large bag at a Brussels metro station, according to Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.
It is possible that he, like Khalid El Bakraoui, didn’t survive the subway blast.
Other surveillance footage, this time from the airport, shows the other man rolling luggage carts alongside Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui.
This individual, seen in a hat and light-colored clothing in an airport surveillance image, allegedly planted a bomb and left. That bomb didn’t go off immediately, though it did detonate later — by which time authorities were on site and no one was killed or injured. The U.S. government thinks they know the name of this person, and are sharing that information with Belgian authorities, a U.S. official told CNN on Friday.
Secretary of State John Kerry vowed the same day that his government will “provide any assistance necessary” to Belgium in the investigation and their shared fight against terrorism.
“We will not be intimidated, we will not be deterred, and we will come back with greater resolve, with greater strength,” Kerry said. “And we will not rest until we have eliminated your nihilistic beliefs and cowardice from the face of this Earth.”
‘The feeling of war’
On the streets of Brussels, commuters are trying to get back to their normal lives. But anxiety is still high.
“We all know that we are not safe anywhere,” one woman said. “It can happen anywhere and at any moment.”
Soldiers now line the streets near the central subway station, their hands gripping guns.
“It’s a little bit kind of war — the feeling of war,” one Belgian man said.
Now, everyone who wants to board the subway gets searched.
Some say they’re glad for the extra precautions in Brussels.
“It makes me safe,” one woman said. “A lot safer.”
But it will be several more days before anyone can fly in or out of the capital. Brussels Airport said passenger flights will not resume until Sunday at the earliest.
“Because the forensic investigation is still underway, we currently have no access to the building,” the airport’s website states. “Until we can assess the damage, it remains unclear when we can resume operations.”