Did Europe miss warnings on terror threat?

The effectiveness of Belgium's counter-terrorism intelligence was thrown further into doubt Thursday on news that Turkey had not only arrested and deported one of the attackers involved in this week's Brussels attacks, but that Belgium might have ignored a warning on the risk he posed.

Speaking on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey had arrested and deported to the Netherlands one of the two El Bakraoui brothers named by police as being responsible for the airport and metro station attacks in Brussels on Tuesday. The blasts killed at least 31 people and injured hundreds more.

"One of the perpetrators of the Brussels attack is a person whom we detained in June 2015 in [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep and deported," Erdoğan said at a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart in Ankara, Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported.

People walk past police officers as they exit Brussels Midi train station on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium.
Carl Court/Getty Images
People walk past police officers as they exit Brussels Midi train station on March 23, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium.

The perpetrator named by Turkish officials as Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the Brussels airport attackers who already had a string of criminal convictions and was known to Belgian police.

"We informed the Brussels Embassy of the deportation process of the attacker with a note on July 14, 2015. However, the Belgians released the attacker despite his deportation," Erdoğan said.

Later Thursday, in a statement from the Belgian Federal prosecutor, it emerged that an European arrest warrant had been issued for Khalid el Bakraoui back in December for his role in the Paris attacks.

The comments come as Belgium's authorities scramble to find a fourth man suspected of involvement in the bombings and potentially more terror suspects that could have assisted the bombers.

The attacks have increased pressures on European officials to strengthen anti-terrorism measures in the 28-country bloc, not an easy task as the region deals with an influx of refugees fleeing mainly from civil war in Syria. The EU has a deal with Turkey to halt the influx of migrants but the latest attacks have muddied an already complex dynamic between the EU and its neighbor, which straddles Europe and the Middle East.

Erdogan added that "despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, Belgium could not establish any links with terrorism" which meant he could walk free. It's not the first time that Turkey has deported suspected terrorists. One of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks last November had been deported to Belgium from Turkey last year.

Brussels update:

•Two of the men behind the attacks have been identified as brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. Both were known to Belgian police.

•Khalid was the suicide bomber in the metro attack.

•Ibrahim identified as one of three men caught on CCTV at Zaventem airport.

•Belgian and French media have identified one of the other men in the CCTV picture as Najim Laachraoui, an accomplice of Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris attacks.

•The third man, wearing a hat in the CCTV picture, was said to have fled the scene without detonating his device. He is still on the run and his identity is unknown.

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