Justice Min. defends inaction on Brussels bombing suspect

Ard van der Steur (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons). (Ard van der Steur (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons))

The Netherlands could have acted "more alert and assertive" with regards to Brussels bombers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui. But there was no reason to actively track them down, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur said in answer to parliamentary questions posed to him in preparation to Thursday's debate.

"At no point did the Netherlands have information based on which Ibrahim El Bakraoui could be signaled or criminally prosecuted", Van der Steur wrote to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, the Financieele Dagblad reports. But he added that "in retrospect it can be noted that there were opportunities to work more proactively at international level"

On Thursday the Minister of Security and Justice must face the Tweede Kamer in a debate on the terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 22nd. Over the past weeks opposition parties voiced fierce criticism on how the authorities dealt with information and warnings received about the Brussels bombers. The El Bakraoui brothers were two of the three suicide bombers involved in the attacks on Zaventem airport and Maalbeek subway station in Brussels.

Ibrahim El Bakraoui was deported from Turkey to the Netherlands on July 14th, 2015. Whether he then stayed in the Netherlands is completely unclear, according to the minister. There are no indications that he did, but it can not be ruled out. "There is free movement of people within the Schengen area", Van der Steur wrote. "Not signaled Belgian nationals are not tracked in the Schengen and therefore also not in the Netherlands. There is no evidence that Ibrahim El Bakraoui remained in the Netherlands after landing at Schiphol."

Van der Steur also acknowledged that a Turkish memo on El Bakraoui's deportation went unnoticed at the Dutch Embassy in Ankara. But even if it was read, there still would not have been grounds to arrest him. The Turks did not make clear why he was being deported, according to the Minister. "When the only thing known about a person is that the Turkish authorities discovered the person near the Turkish-Syrian border, then that is insufficient reason for suspicion and therefore insufficient grounds for criminal prosecution."