BRUSSELS, One of the Brussels airport bombers has been identified as a former Isis jailer, who held four French journalists hostage in Syria.
Lawyer Marie-laure Ingouf revealed Friday that her clients Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres, and two other journalists, Didier François and Edouard Elias, recognized Najim Laachraoui as the man who held them captive for 10 months between June 2013 and April 2014 before being released.
“I can confirm that he was the jailer of my clients,” Ingouf said.
At the time, Laachraoui went by the name of Abou Idriss. The 24-year-old Belgian national, who worked as an electrical engineer, blew himself up at Brussels Zaventem airport on March 22. Fellow suicide bomber Ibrahim el-Bakraoui also died in the attacks.
Altogether 32 people died in two bomb explosions at the airport, plus another at the Maelbeek metro station.
The French newspaper Le Parisien reports that Laachraoui guarded the four Frenchmen with Mehdi Nemmouche, the jihadist accused of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014. Nemmouche, who was previously identified by the ex-hostages, is now being held by Belgian authorities.
The four journalists, who were captured in June 2013, said that Laachraoui and Nemmouche disappeared at the end of January 2014.
They described Laachraoui as less violent than Nemmouche, and said he occasionally asked them “scientific questions he expected them to answer.” He seemed to be “someone of intelligence, composed, capable of adapting rapidly to new situations,” Le Parisien quoted an interior ministry source as saying.
Belgian authorities have said that Laachraoui traveled to Syria in February 2013 to join Islamic State forces as a fighter.
He was linked to the Paris attacks that killed 130 people last November. Laachraoui’s DNA was found on a suicide vest and a piece of cloth found at at the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people died, and also on explosives used in a failed attack at the Stade de France.
Earlier this month, Brussels police arrested Mohamed Abrini, the “man in the hat” who was also caught on security cameras at the airport and is suspected of preparing to detonate a third bomb before fleeing.
Train services to Brussels Zaventem airport, which was extensively damaged in the attacks, were due to resume on Friday night. The airport partially reopened two weeks ago and is expected to be fully functioning by June.
By Martin Smith