Brussels attacks: Belgian authorities 'seriously neglected' airport security, according to leaked report

Fall-out from the report being felt in Belgian domestic politics as transport minister Jacqueline Galant resigns.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

15 Apr 2016

A secret inspection report into airport safety from the European Commission is said to be critical of security measures in force at Belgian airports.

The report suggests that the Belgian authorities "seriously neglected" airport security over several years.

The document was disclosed by the Belgian Ecolo and Green parties and covers the airside of Belgium's five airports, including the national airport at Zaventem, the recent target of a terrorist attack.


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On 22 March three suicide bombers struck at the airport, and also a metro station in Brussels, killing 32 people.

The leaked report covers the secure zones which are accessible to airport staff and passengers after they check in. This is an area which falls under the responsibility of the Belgian government.

The public zones of the airports, such as the departure hall, where the bombers struck last month, are the responsibility of Brussels Airport company, a private enterprise.

The fall-out from the leaked document is now being felt in Belgian domestic politics.

According to Belgian media reports on Friday, a top civil servant in the Belgian federal transport department, Luc Ledoux, said that he asked the federal transport minister Jacqueline Galant for more personnel and means to tighten airport security on 1 February. 

However, it is claimed that Galant and her staff refused to listen.

Ledoux said, "The department is simply ignored by the minister. We are normally just side-lined".

Ledoux and the Minister have clashed before but the leaking of the EU report about security at Belgium's airports has brought matters to a head.

Ledoux was critical of the minister in an interview he gave this week to the Francophone public broadcaster RTBF, accusing Galant, who is a Francophone Liberal, of "Gestapo practises".

He said, "Galant defends specific economic and private interests. Despite all the efforts made, I have reached the conclusion that it is impossible to work with her or her staff. Moreover, she uses Gestapo practices. She wants the names of the leading civil servants that won't do what she wants without question."

Ledoux called on Galant to resign but she denies that there was a formal request for more airport staff. On Friday morning, she announced that she was stepping down.

Meanwhile, a Belgian judge on Thursday ordered Mohamed Abrini and six other suspects arrested in connection with the attacks in Paris and Brussels be kept behind bars for another month.

Abrini, 31, has admitted being the "man in the white hat" seen leaving the airport on the morning of March 22, when two suicide bombers detonated explosives-laden suitcases there, killing 16.

Sixteen other people died that same morning when another bomber blew himself up on a Brussels subway train.

Osama Krayem, 23, a Swedish national suspected of being the accomplice of the subway bomber, was also kept in custody for another month, Belgian prosecutors said.

In a further development, it emerged that the attackers planned to target travellers flying to the U.S., Israel and Russia.

A French news channel said that during questioning by a judge, Abrini said one of the suicide bombers, Ibrahim Bakraoui, chose the target to be the departure halls for flights to the U.S., Russia and Tel Aviv.

 

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