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FBI told Dutch about terror brothers before Brussels blasts

Dutch authorities say they passed on the FBI's message to Belgian federal police who deny they received it
A Belgian soldier stands guard outside the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels last week (AFP)

The FBI notified the Netherlands about its concerns over suicide bombers Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid six days before the Brussels attacks, the Dutch justice minister revealed on Tuesday.

The next day, Dutch officials passed on the information from the FBI - which had placed Ibrahim El Bakraoui on a terror watchlist in September 2015 - to Belgium.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur told the Dutch parliament that police had received an FBI report sent 16 March that disclosed Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid's "criminal backgrounds and Khalid's terrorist background".

The following day "the issue came up during bilateral contact between the Dutch and Belgian police," said Van der Steur. "The radical background of both the brothers was discussed."

He also confirmed US reports that Ibrahim was on a terror list, saying he had been placed on the surveillance list in September 2015.

Belgium's federal police service, however, said it had not received any information direct from the FBI on 16 March about the Bakraoui brothers.

In the meeting between Dutch and Belgian police the next day, it said there was "no mention of the message that the FBI sent to the Dutch police".

Ibrahim El Bakraoui was one of two bombers who blew themselves up at Brussels airport on 22 March. His brother, Khalid, blew himself up at Maalbeek metro station.

The Dutch minister's revelations come as under-fire Belgian authorities on Tuesday continued to hunt for a fugitive bomber, one week after the deadly blasts in the Belgian capital that killed 32.

Belgian federal police said in the meeting with Dutch officials on 16 March, they discussed a police raid in Brussels the day before in which an Algerian militant with links to Paris attacks prime suspect Salah Abdeslam was captured. Khalid El Bakraoui is believed to have rented the flat where the raid took place using a false name. 

Under pressure at home and abroad over an apparent series of missed clues about criminals linked to militant networks, the Belgian government has admitted mistakes were made.

In the most glaring such example, Turkey accused Belgium last week of ignoring a clear and present danger by revealing it had deported Ibrahim El Bakraoui as a "terrorist" suspect last year, after arresting him near the Syrian border.

The Dutch justice minister last week confirmed that Turkey sent Bakraoui back to the Netherlands in July, but stressed he had not been known to Dutch law enforcement or been on any watch lists.

It was not known how long Bakraoui stayed in the Netherlands before returning to Belgium, Van der Steur said.