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NYPD, not FBI, tipped off Dutch on Belgian bombers: minister

AFP  |  The Hague 

A Dutch minister today backpedalled on his claim that the FBI had notified the Netherlands about US concerns over two Belgian suicide bombers before the Brussels attacks, admitting there had been "an error".

Under-fire Dutch Justice Minister Ard van der Steur said: "I understand that an error was made about who sent the information."

The Dutch police liaison officer in the embassy in Washington had in fact "received the information from another large American intelligence service -- namely the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department (NYPD)," the minister said.

The tipoff was passed along "without the source, and it was accepted in the Netherlands that the information had come from the FBI."

Van der Steur had told the Dutch parliament yesterday that the FBI had notified the Netherlands of its concerns over suicide bombers Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid six days before the March 22 Brussels attacks.

Dutch police had received an FBI report sent March 16 "in which there was notification of Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid's criminal backgrounds and Khalid's terrorist background," he said yesterday.

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."

But his comments were immediately queried by Dutch MPs who asked why the FBI would inform the Netherlands and not Belgium.

The minister, who has been criticised for what has been seen here as some intelligence blunders, said he would ask the NYPD why it had not informed Belgium of its concerns.

Ibrahim El Bakraoui was one of two bombers who blew themselves up at Brussels airport on March 22. His brother Khalid blew himself up at Maalbeek metro station. A total of 32 people were killed in the attacks.

Belgium's federal police said it had not received any information direct from the FBI on March 16 about the Bakraoui brothers, and also said the two men were not raised in the meeting with the Dutch police.

Under pressure at home and abroad over an apparent series of missed clues about criminals linked to jihadist networks, the Belgian government has however 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 nor was he on any watch lists.

First Published: Wed, March 30 2016. 19:42 IST