Brussels attacks: Taxi driver who drove bombers to airport heard tirade against US - then alerted police

Kim Sengupta hears the inside story of the fateful journey

The taxi driver who unwittingly took the Brussels bombers to the scene of their attack has revealed one of the men raged during the journey about what he saw as America’s aggression towards Islam, The Independent has learned.

The driver has been widely praised for preventing greater bloodshed. It can now be disclosed that he is a Muslim of Moroccan descent. The terrorists had left behind not just one case packed with explosives as had been  previously thought, but two. The lethal devices could have been used by their accomplices to carry out further attacks had he not alerted police to the location.

The cab had been called by the three jihadists from the flat on the fifth floor of a block in Schaerbeek in northern Brussels to go to the airport. The men came down with five cases which they refused to allow the driver to touch. However, only three of the cases could be fitted into the boot of the car, a black Skoda, much to the annoyance of the men. They briefly discussed ordering a second car before deciding to take two of the cases back upstairs.

The driver is convinced, after studying photographs and video, that two of the three passengers he drove to the airport on Tuesday morning were brothers Brahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui. He recalls them sitting, hunched, in silence in the back during the 25 minute ride to the city’s Zaventem airport. The voluble man in the front, decrying the US, was, he believes, the figure in a white jacket and black hat who was seen at the airport walking alongside Brahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, an Isis bomb maker, and then disappeared dumping his suicide vest.

Brahim el-Bakraoui and Nijam Laachraoui detonated their explosive belts at an American Airlines counter at the airport, killing themselves and 11 others.

Khalid el-Bakraoui blew himself up at Maelbeek metro station, taking 20 more lives.

After dropping off the three men at the airport, the driver picked up another passenger on the way back to the city centre. He called the police after seeing CCTV footage of the suspects on social media. A married man with young children, he has decided not to reveal his identity after taking police advice.

Armed police arrived outside the block of flats, No 4 Rue Max Roos, late on Tuesday morning. Inside the flat they found an Isis flag, a bomb packed with nails and screws, detonators and enough chemicals to make 15kg of Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) the explosive used in last November’s Paris attacks.

Outside, in a dustbin, was a laptop which provided a crucial insight into the mind of one of the bombers. “I don’t know what to do, I am in a hurry, being searched for everywhere, not being safe, it drags on it could end up me being in a prison cell next  to him,” Brahim el-Bakraoui had written.

The “him” in the note is believed to be Salah Abdeslam, a fugitive from the Paris attacks who was arrested in the district of Molenbeek last Friday. Abdeslam’s lawyer, Sven Mary had claimed his client was providing information and “worth his weight in gold”. There have been reports, unconfirmed, that the “man in the white coat” at the airport was Mohamed Abrini, a childhood friend of Abdeslam and also wanted over the Paris murders.

Residents in surrounding areas to Rue Max Roos  were told to leave their homes while the bombs were defused. Ragheb Masri, who took his family away overnight, recalled: “The police told us that buildings would collapse if the bomb had gone off. Everyone must move out immediately, they said. It was good that the taxi driver was quick to let the police know about this place, there could have been a catastrophe otherwise.”

A friend of the driver who made the Rue Max Roos pick-up, who is also a Muslim of Moroccan descent, said: “The police have spoken to him lots and they have asked him to be careful, these are very dangerous times.

“Of course my friend provided the necessary information and maybe that saved lives. Some people, like that man Donald Trump in America, says that Muslims are not giving information about terrorists. That is not true at all. 

“We want to protect our community just like anyone else. We don’t want to see our families killed or injured by bombs, or anyone else’s families. We know we need to confront these very bad people together.”