Belgium’s interior and justice ministers offered to resign on Thursday (24 March) over the failure to track an Islamic State militant expelled by Turkey last year who blew himself up at Brussels airport on Tuesday.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon said Prime Minister Charles Michel had asked him to stay on — “In time of war, you cannot leave the field,” Jambon told VTM television.
Justice Minister Koen Geens also offered to go but would stay on, a ministry spokesperson said.
One of the Brussels attackers was caught in Turkey in June last year and deported to the Netherlands as a foreign fighter, but Belgium let him loose, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday (23 March).
Belgian authorities are facing embarrassment after Turkey said on Wednesday that last year Ankara expelled back to Europe Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks on Tuesday, and warned Belgium he was a militant.
While other militant suspects have not been held on the grounds of lack of evidence, Bakraoui was on parole and barely half-way through a 9-year sentence for armed robbery.
“You can ask how it came about that someone was let out so early and that we missed the chance to seize him when he was in Turkey. I understand the questions,” Jambon said. “In the circumstances, it was right to take political responsibility.”
Belgian police are also facing questions on how the then most-wanted man in Europe, Salah Abdeslam, sought in connection to the November 13 attacks in Paris, seemingly managed to return and spend five months living in his native Molenbeek, before being arrested last week.
European Union justice and interior ministers are meeting today in an emergency session to look at improving coordination, in the wake of this week’s twin airport and metro attacks in Belgian capital.
A survivor of the Maelbeek station bombing that killed at least 20 people on Tuesday today vowed to get back on the Brussels metro when he returns to work at the European Parliament after Easter.