FBI police car (illustration)
FBI police car (illustration) iStock

The FBI told Dutch police that two brothers were being sought by Belgian authorities a week before the pair blew themselves up in last week’s suicide attacks in Brussels, the Dutch interior minister said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Ard van der Steur was responding by letter to questions from Dutch legislators about Belgian brothers Brahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, who prosecutors say took part in the March 22 attacks which killed 35 people, excluding the attackers.

According to Reuters, Brahim was deported to the Netherlands from Turkey in July 2015, a month after being picked up by Turkish police near the Syrian border. The Netherlands said that when he arrived, his name did not appear on any blacklists so he was not detained. Why he was not deported to Belgium is not clear.

"On March 16, the FBI informed Dutch police over the fact that both brothers were sought by Belgian authorities," the minister wrote.

Van der Steur added that the FBI told the Dutch authorities that Brahim was sought by the Belgian authorities for "his criminal background", while Khaled was wanted for "terrorism, extremism and recruitment".

In an earlier version of the letter, the minister wrote that the FBI had informed the Dutch authorities of the two brothers, without mentioning that they were wanted by Belgium.

This information was then shared at a meeting between Belgian and Dutch authorities on March 17, the minister wrote.

The Belgian federal police in response denied the brothers were mentioned in a discussion on March 17, when a Dutch police representative visited them.

They discussed a shootout in Brussels on March 15 in which an Islamist gunman was shot dead, but there was no mention of the FBI report, the Belgian police said in the statement quoted by Reuters.

Belgian prosecutors have identified Brahim El Bakraoui as one of two suicide bombers who attacked Brussels' Zaventem Airport, and they say Khalid El Bakraoui was the man who carried out a suicide bombing at Brussels' Maelbeek Metro station, near European Union headquarters.

Reports last week said the two brothers were known to American government agencies before the attacks and were both on United States government counter-terrorism watch lists.

Other reports have indicated that Belgium received advanced warnings of the terrorist attacks but did not act on those warnings.

Channel 2 News reported soon after the attacks that Israel had provided Belgium with concrete information on security breaches at the Zaventem Airport, where the first of two attacks on the Belgian capital took place, and claimed that "there are serious security deficiencies at the airport in Brussels".

And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country had warned Belgium about Brahim El Bakraoui, but Belgium failed to act on the warnings.