Suspected Paris Bomb-Maker Najim Laachraoui Was Brussels Suicide Bomber
According to reports from multiple news agencies, Belgian officials announced on Friday that a suspected bomb-maker in the Paris attacks, Najim Laachraoui, was one of the Brussels suicide bombers. His identity was reportedly confirmed by a Belgian federal prosecutor, who confirmed to NBC News that the suspect pictured on the far left of surveillance was indeed the 24-year-old Laachraoui, who was also suspected of having constructed the bombs used in the deadly attacks in Paris, France last November. A French police official confirmed Laachraoui's involvement in the Paris attacks to the AP, claiming that his DNA was found on the suicide vests the attackers used, as well as in an apartment where the bombs were built.
If you've been following the coverage of the Belgian attacks in any detail, there's a pretty good chance you know what Laachraoui looks like ― or, at the very least, how he looks in a grainy security camera still captured in the main terminal building of the Brussels Airport at Zaventem. Alongside the other of the two slain suicide bombers, Laachraoui is seen clad in a black shirt, and wearing a single black glove on his left hand ― both of the pair's single black gloves have been cited as possibly concealing their detonation devices.
According to analysis by the counter-terrorism strategy firm The Soufan Group, headed up by former FBI Supervisory Special Agent Ali Soufan, the fact that Laachraoui actually gave up his life in the Brussels bombing is rather abnormal, given his alleged involvement in actually constructing bombs rather than just executing attacks. The group's latest intelligence briefing published on Friday suggests that Laachraoui actually joining in the suicide bombing could indicate that he feared imminent capture by European authorities:
Suicide vest construction is well-known among terrorists, but the safe and repeated manufacture of high-powered vests designed for maximum carnage is a rare capability. The Islamic State’s network or extended cell in Brussels has demonstrated in two attacks that it has at least one relatively competent bomb-maker, as well as operatives capable of planning and executing mass-casualty attacks. It is unusual for a group’s bomb-maker to blow himself up, as is reportedly the case with Laachraoui. Either he believed he was likely to be captured in the aftermath of the attacks, or the group has another member capable of constructing vests and suitcase bombs.
While the motives and movements of the Brussels attackers figures to become more clear over time, with more thorough reporting, this analysis does make a lot of sense. If there were ever a time when Laachraoui might fear he'd soon be arrested, the week leading up to the Brussels attacks would likely be it. Thanks to the high-profile arrest of suspected Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam on March 15, authorities reportedly began a large-scale manhunt aimed at tracking down other members of his terrorist network, which some observers believe could have helped hasten the bloodshed such a week later.