Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens has denied that Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the two suicide bombers who attacked Brussels on Tuesday, was known to the authorities for having links to terrorism.
At least 31 people were killed when Ibrahim El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid carried out double attacks on the Brussels Zaventem Airport and the Maelbeek metro station in the city centre during rush hour.
A third suspect, Najim Laachraoui, who is believed to have escaped after his explosive device failed to detonate, is still on the run.
Speaking to Belgium’s public broadcaster VRT, Geens said that Ibrahim El Bakraoui wasn’t at the time known for terrorism, but only for “criminal acts.”
His comments came in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement on Wednesday in which he said that Ibrahim El Bakraoui was deported from Turkey to the Netherlands last June.
“One of the attackers in Brussels was previously deported by us [Turkey] after we captured him in [Turkey’s southeastern province] Gaziantep in June 2015,” Erdogan told reporters in a news conference.
Turkey subsequently warned Belgium about Ibrahim El Bakraoui but the Belgian authorities had failed to confirm the suspect's links to terrorism and was then released despite Turkey’s warnings, he added.
Erdogan did not specify how Ibrahim El Bakraoui had been transferred from the Netherlands to Belgium.
This is the second time an attack has been carried out by an assailant deported from Turkey on European soil after Omar Ismail Mostefai participated in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.
Turkey had warned the French authorities about Omar Ismail Mostefai twice before the Paris attacks.
The attack in Brussels came just four days after Belgian police arrested Salah Abdeslam, one of the alleged ringleaders of the Paris attacks.
Abdeslam was arrested three days after evading a capture in a shootout in southern Brussels that saw an Algerian DAESH-linked terrorist killed.
Investigators believe Abdeslam slipped out of the apartment as the gun battle erupted. He was finally captured in Brussels' Molenbeek District - just around the corner from his family home.
Belgian authorities had been on alert after Abdeslam told investigators that he had been planning an attack on Brussels.
Brussels is the headquarters of both NATO and the European Union.