With Belgian officials struggling to explain how they missed crucial information leading up to Tuesday’s devastating Brussels bombings, local police in the northern Belgian city of Mechelen admitted on Friday that as far back as December, they knew where the sole surviving Paris attacker might be hiding in the Belgian capital, but failed to pass the address to the country’s anti-terrorist unit—even though Europe’s biggest manhunt in years was underway.
As details mounted about the gaffes and missteps of Belgian officials that might have averted this week’s bloodshed, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the city for talks with Belgium’s government about how to dismantle ISIS’s terror networks. U.S. officials told reporters that at least two Americans were among the 31 people killed in Tuesday’s suicide bombings, two which occurred in a crowded airport terminal, and a third on an underground train in central Brussels. ISIS has claimed responsibility. “We are all of us going to help,” Kerry told the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel at a joint press conference in Brussels. “We will renew our vow to come together against a common enemy to keep our people safe.”
Yet those assurances came amid increasing details about bungled intelligence gathering in the months before Tuesdays attacks, with Belgian officials overlooking crucial information or simply failing to share it within the country’s highly fragmented policing structure. On Friday, the local police chief of Mechelen, a small city 13 miles northeast of Brussels, said his department had received a tip in early December—nearly four months ago—about the possible whereabouts of Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving attacker from the Paris massacre on November 13, which killed 130 people. Abdeslam, 26, had slipped back into Belgium during the hours after the Paris attacks, then hid in his Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, evading street-to-street police raids for months. Last Friday, a SWAT team finally nabbed him—at the exact address that a relative of Abdeslam had given Mechelen police last December.