ISTANBUL (Reuters) - One of the attackers in the Brussels suicide bombings was deported from Turkey twice last year and the authorities warned their European counterparts that they suspected him of being a militant fighter, two Turkish officials said on Thursday.
The first official said Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s initial deportation in July had been based on police suspicions that he was a militant fighter, but no crime was committed in Turkey, describing his expulsion as an “administrative deportation”.
“The police were looking at him and came to the conclusion that he may be a foreign fighter. He was picked up in (the southern town of) Gaziantep,” said the official, declining to be named because of the sensitivities of the case.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Ibrahim El Bakraoui had been deported on July 14, 2015, and that Belgium had subsequently ignored a warning that he was a militant.
Bakraoui is one of two brothers named by Belgium as responsible for the attacks that killed at least 31 people in Brussels on Tuesday and were claimed by the Islamic State group. Both brothers are believed to have died in the attacks.
The second Turkish government official told Reuters that Bakraoui had entered Turkey for a second time on Aug. 11 though Antalya airport on the Mediterranean coast and was again deported two weeks later, on Aug. 25.
The official did not specify where he was deported to on the second occasion.
Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said Turkish police had detained Bakraoui after ascertaining that he planned to go to conflict areas in Syria.
The newspaper also said his brother, Khalid, had entered Turkey on Nov. 4, 2014, through Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and was monitored by security forces before leaving the country again 10 days later. That, the newspaper said, was more than a year before Belgium issued a notice for his arrest.
Turkish officials could not immediately confirm that Khalid had also been in Turkey.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Hugh Lawson