The Belgian government some weeks ago hired an Israeli security firm to inspect security arrangements at the Zaventem airport of Brussels. The security experts, who were asked for advice on improvements, submitted initial recommendations for urgent upgrades. However those improvements had not been installed by Tuesday, March 22, when Islamist terrorists hit the airport’s departure hall with exploding suitcases, claiming more than 30 deaths and injuring scores of victims..
The Israeli firm was not alone in underlining the urgency of security upgrades at Zaventem airport in recent weeks. On Feb. 29, European Union security agencies called for an immediate overhaul of the security measures at Belgian airports and borders, which were wide open to access by terrorists and lacked the tools for inspecting passengers on arrival and departure.
After the attack, it turned out that Ukrainian security guards, who had been hired and posted at the airport, had mostly deserted their stations. The few remaining there had carried out only cursory checks.
Not only was Zaventem airport wide open to hostile infiltration, so too is Brussels’ second airport Charleroi, the terminus for flights to and from Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey. Although the Belgian authorities were warned that Charleroi presented Islamic State terrorists with an open door from those countries into Europe, passengers passing through were still not subjected to searches, even when they headed to Zaventem for connecting flights.
Finally, under the shock of terror, Belgium decided to stem the flow of terrorists by keeping its air space and airports shut to traffic Thursday.
Both Western and Israeli counterterrorism experts meet with skepticism the stream of reports the Belgian authorities and media were still putting out Thursday about the identities of the terrorists who struck the airport and Metro, their numbers and their methods of operation. An Israeli security expert commented that these reports don’t match the evidence and leave too many questions unanswered to be credible.
The account of the taxi driver, who said he had driven three terrorists to the airport, is one example. He said that his cab was too small for the five heavy suitcases they wanted to load onto his cab, so they only loaded three. Did that mean that five suitcase bombs were to have been blown up at the airport? And what happened to the two left behind?
Also at odds with the official claim of suicide bombers are the black gloves that two terrorists wore on their left hands, obviously covering remote control mechanisms for the bombs in the luggage carts they were pushing through the departure hall.
Despite the spreading shock effect of the airport attack, it is also becoming clear that the terrorists only accomplished the first part of their jihadist mission. The Islamic State, which approved the operation, had envisaged a much bigger atrocity. This is attested to by the discovery of three bags containing identical kits of firearms and ammunition, a bomb belt, two AK-47 automatic rifles, magazines and hand grenades – all intact and unused. The police detonated them by controlled explosion.
Those kits were concealed in advance in apparent readiness to strike the emergency teams, the medics, the security forces and the other first responders when they arrived to tend the victims of the first attack. The kits were placed at strategic points, either by an advance team of terrorist operatives masquerading as airport personnel, or a staff employee.
When investigators examined the submachine guns, they found that someone had tried to fire one of them and it jammed. This might explain why the second half of the Brussels airport atrocity, the mega-massacre, was stalled.
By sheer chance, therefore, hundreds of Belgian security officers and emergency aid personnel were saved from being trapped from three directions in a ball of fire.
Belgian police and security units have been chasing desperately, with very few intelligence clues, for a broad network of at least 20 Islamists, who must have spent months setting up the complicated Brussels operations at the airport and Metro station.
The planning would have involved exhaustive reconnaissance, the precise study of the targeted locations, arms providers, logistics, finance, communications and prepared escape routes – before the bombers went in.