Nicolas Hénin writes: Few would have given them a second look: three men wheeling luggage trolleys through the heart of an airport in the heart of Europe. I immediately recognised Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, the stocky one in the middle. I tweeted that it was him two hours before his identity as one of the suspected suicide bombers at Brussels airport was confirmed by the authorities. El-Bakraoui’s name and picture had come up in intelligence briefings. His brother, we later discovered, killed more in his own martyrdom atrocity on the Brussels metro.
In the CCTV image they exude no obvious menace. Even the fact that two are each wearing one black glove – to hide the triggers for their detonators, investigators believe – might not have raised an alarm.
Our perception of Isis is drawn from its images: the black flag; the orange suits it condemns the condemned to wear; the executioner, face masked, knife brandished. These symbols have transferred themselves from the front pages of our newspapers and seared themselves into the minds of millions. But the jihadis, who held me hostage in Syria for 10 long months, will draw just as much satisfaction from the banal images of its three operatives in the moments before they launched yesterday’s murderous attack on Zaventem airport.
The terrorists are casually dressed, one almost drawing attention to himself in a white jacket and a dark beach hat, worn at an angle. But to study this picture is chilling, knowing the three are intending to kill and maim dozens of people – and themselves – and yet they are not stressed or anxious. That is because, for them, this is all about death. But the picture sends a message: that the enemy looks ordinary and walks among you. It is one of the goals of Isis to sow division and make us afraid of one another. That was one of the things I learned during my captivity. [Continue reading…]