US citizens, Orthodox Jews were targets of Brussels Airport attack – sources
US citizens and Orthodox Jews were the targets of suicide bombers in Brussels Zaventem Airport in March 2016, a report citing investigation sources said, adding that one of the bombers decided to pursue 2 Jews, instead of 60 high school students.
The report released by AFP, which contacted investigators from different countries probing the attack, states that the Brussels attackers were not targeting random people.
“It’s clear they had quite specific targets… We know they wanted to target Americans,” one source said on condition of anonymity, adding that one of the suicide bombers “attacked the [US] Delta Airlines check-in.”
“We know they were obsessed with the Israelis too,” the source added when asked if the bomber targeted Israeli check-ins.
Four American citizens were among the casualties in the Brussels bombings, according to data from the US State Department. Two Israeli citizens were injured in the attacks.
One of the suicide bombers in Zaventem Airport, Najim Laachraoui, a Belgian-Moroccan national, was reportedly standing among about 60 high school students before the attack happened, camera footage never released to the public showed, AFP reports. The extremist, however, suddenly decided to pursue two Orthodox Jews.
“The attacker seemed to rush towards two Orthodox Jews,” one of the sources said. “He really, clearly wanted to kill a Jew.”
Another source, this time from US law enforcement agencies, claimed that Hasidic Jews were the targets of the terrorists. Hasidic Jews are easy to recognize – they wear beards, kippahs (a brimless cap, usually made of cloth) and peyots (sidecurls).
Investigators "are very confident they were targeting the US, Russia, and Israel," the US government source added.
According to airport data, seen by AFP, flights to the US (United American Delta, Russia’s Aeroflot, and Israel’s El Al) were scheduled right after the attack, which took place at nearly 8:00am. This information has been circulating in the Belgian media ever since. Unconfirmed reports from June 2016 claimed that Khalid El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers, received messages stating that planes from the US, Russia, and Israel take off every Tuesday from Zaventem.
Another US source also confirmed the ‘specific target’ theory on condition of anonymity.
“Even early on [in the investigation] there were indications that they targeted US, Russian and Israeli check-in counters,” the source said. “That understanding has held up with later investigations, including with [Mohamed] Abrini's alleged confession.”
Abrini, a Belgian national of Moroccan origin, was captured shortly after the attacks, and later admitted to prosecutors that he was involved in suicide bombings in Brussels. He was also accused of assisting the Paris attacks in 2015.
Unreleased airport CCTV footage allegedly shows Abrini lagging behind the attackers before hiding behind a pillar, AFP said, citing two independent sources.
“Every indication was that Abrini changed his mind,” another US law enforcement source suggested. Abrini was a childhood friend of Brahim Abdeslam, Paris suicide bomber and his brother Salah, the ‘most wanted man’ behind Paris attacks who is currently in custody.
Brussels was struck by twin suicide bombings, hitting Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station on March 22, 2016. The attack killed 32 people and injured dozens more.
Numerous raids have been conducted in the mainly Muslim Molenbeek area of Brussels, which is often referred to as an “Islamist hotspot.” Many of the suspects involved in the Paris attacks grew up and lived in Molenbeek, including Abrini, terrorist mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and the Abdeslam brothers.