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Police were searching for the 3 alleged bombers before Tuesday's attacks in Brussels

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Two Belgian citizens, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Khalid el-Bakraoui, were the suicide bombers who attacked the airport and subway in Brussels on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people and injuring around 300, the Belgian federal prosecutor, Frédéric Van Leeuw, said at a press conference Wednesday.

And several media outlets in both Europe and the US, citing multiple anonymous intelligence sources, have said that Najim Laachraoui, a fugitive wanted for his role in the Paris attacks in November, was the second airport suicide bomber. (Earlier reports Wednesday erroneously said Laachraoui had been arrested, or that he was on the run.)

Police are still searching for a fourth man, who apparently participated in the airport attack before fleeing and abandoning his suitcase bomb, later dealt with by a bomb squad.

While the details are still incomplete, what we know so far about the suspected bombers is striking because many facts about the suspects were known to police for their involvement with terrorism before they allegedly perpetrated Tuesday's attacks.

The el-Bakraoui brothers and Laachraoui had all been sought by police in recent days in connection with terrorism. Khalid el-Bakraoui was thought to be an accomplice to the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November; Laachraoui may have built the bombs. And Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was arrested in southern Turkey in June as part of a Turkish investigation into foreign fighters in Syria's civil war.

The el-Bakraoui brothers had Belgian citizenship and serious crimes in their past

Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, 27, and Khalid el-Bakraoui, 29, were Belgian citizens with criminal records that began well before their alleged involvement with terrorism.

  • Khalid el-Bakraoui was sentenced to five years in prison for attempted carjacking while possessing assault rifles in 2011, according to the New York Times. Interpol issued an arrest warrant for him in August. Khalid el-Bakraoui is believed to have rented two safe houses for the Paris attackers, one in Charleroi, about 50 miles from the border between France and Belgium, and the other an apartment in the Forest neighborhood, both under a false name.
  • Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2010 for shooting at the police in the course of an attempted robbery, according to the Times. But he was free by June 2015, when he was arrested in southern Turkey, near the Syrian border, as part of a Turkish investigation into foreign fighters in Syria, and was deported to the Netherlands, the Guardian reported.

It's not clear which of the brothers turned to terrorism first, or if — Ibrahim's aborted trip aside — they ever fought in Syria. But once one member of a family is radicalized, the chances that others will follow suit skyrocket. All three deadly attacks in Belgium and France in the past 15 months involved a pair of brothers.

Investigators found Ibrahim el-Bakraoui's will on a computer in a trash can in Brussels's Schaerbeek neighborhood. In the document, he said he was fleeing quickly, and that if the situation continued to drag out he could "end up in a cell" like Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving alleged perpetrator in the Paris attacks, who was arrested in Belgium on Friday.

The taxi driver who took the brothers to the airport led investigators to the apartment where he picked them up. There, police found more than 30 pounds of TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, the same explosive used in the Paris attacks, according to Belgium's federal prosecutor. TATP is often used by terrorists because it is easy to manufacture and difficult to detect.

Najim Laachraoui, the alleged third suicide bomber, has also been linked to the Paris attacks

Laachraoui, a 24-year-old Belgian citizen with deep links to terrorism, was wanted by police before the attacks, and there has been persistent speculation in Belgian and French media that he was involved.

But his role was unclear until Wednesday afternoon, when Agence France-Presse, the Washington Post, and the French newspaper Le Figaro said intelligence sources had confirmed he was the second airport suicide bomber.

If Laachraoui both committed a suicide attack in Brussels and built the bombs for the Paris attack, as police claimed, that would be unusual: Bombmakers usually are seen as too valuable to kill themselves, the Washington Post wrote.

The day before the Brussels attacks, Belgian police appealed to the public for help finding Laachraoui, whom they described as an accomplice of Abdeslam. It's not yet clear why, if they were already searching for the el-Bakraoui brothers, they didn't ask for help finding them as well.