Brussels bombing: Anger over Jambon's 'Muslim dancing' comment

Picture taken with permission from the Facebook site of Jef Versele showing the aftermath of this morning's explosions at Brussels airport, 22 March Image copyright PA
Image caption Two bombs tore through Brussels airport on 22 March

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon has come under fire for saying that a "significant part of the Muslim community danced" in response to the Brussels bomb attacks.

He was repeatedly asked by MPs for evidence of his claim and a Muslim group has made an official complaint.

The 22 March bomb attacks at Brussels airport and Maelbeek metro station left 32 dead and hundreds more wounded.

Separately a new report says one bomber worked at the airport for five years.

Mr Jambon, whose centre-right nationalist New Flemish Alliance is the largest party in parliament, has been broadly criticised for telling a newspaper that a significant section of the Muslim community danced after the attacks,

Image copyright Belgian police
Image caption Najim Laachraoui blew himself up, moments after he was captured on airport CCTV
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jan Jambon said he did not have police reports detailing Muslims dancing in response to the bombings

One political opponent, Katja Gabriels, warned him that a member of the government could not make such generalisations and insult a whole section of the community.

Others called for facts and figures to back up his remarks.

"For days now people are focusing on the word 'significant' and talking about how many instances, how many police reports etc. I'll tell you straight: I don't have police reports. There are some, but not many," Mr Jambon told MPs.

"Everyone knows that these things happened. Do we have to wait for an official police report to confirm the existence of these facts?"

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He also reminded his colleagues that stones and bottles were thrown at police after they arrested Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, four days before the Brussels bombings.

One police officer told Flemish TV that he had witnessed three separate incidents after the Brussels attacks of young people laughing and making a V-for-victory sign with their fingers. But he said he had not seen anyone dancing.

Meanwhile a report citing sources by Flemish broadcaster VTM (in Dutch) said airport suicide bomber Najim Laachraoui had worked for five years for a company that operates at the facility until late 2012, shortly before he travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State.

Laachraoui, 24, blew himself up with Ibrahim el-Bakraoui little over an hour before el-Bakraoui's brother, Khalid, attacked the metro with a suicide bombing in the heart of Brussels' European quarter.

The federal prosecutor told the BBC it had no comment on the report "because we don't have this information".

Laachraoui has emerged as the bomb and weapons expert in both the Paris and Brussels attacks. He would have had a security pass and would have known about airport security, VTM said.

The report also spoke of a secret prayer room used by radicalised employees at the airport which was shut down by police shortly before the attacks.

Separately, another of the Paris attacks suspects, Salah Abdeslam, was accused on Thursday of attempting to murder four police officers who were wounded in Brussels a week before the March bombings.

Algerian Islamist Mohamed Belkaid was killed in a shootout when police raided a flat on 15 March, but Salah Abdeslam and another suspect, Amine Choukri, escaped. They were arrested three days later.

Salah Abdeslam is expected to be extradited to France shortly, and the Belgian accusation is not expected to affect his transfer because he has not been placed under an arrest warrant.

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