Brussels attacks: Police reach 'deal to reopen airport'

Police and soldiers outside Zaventem Airport in Brussels, Tuesday, March 29, 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Test have been carried out at Zaventem under tight security

Belgian officials have reached a deal on security at Brussels airport, paving the way for a reopening of the facility which has been shut since last month's suicide attack, a police union says.

They say the government agreed to the unions' demand for passengers to be checked before they enter the terminal.

Both sides say they now expect the airport to re-open in the coming days.

The so-called Islamic State claimed the twin bombings at Zaventem airport and in the metro, which killed 32 people.

The dispute between the government and police unions had delayed the partial reopening of the airport, where two suicide bombers devastated the departure hall on 22 March.

Earlier on Friday Vincent Gilles, head of the largest police union in Belgium, had said: "We cannot continue as if this day has not happened."

He called for metal detectors, body scanners and x-ray machines to screen people outside the building.

Later, Mr Gilles was quoted by AFP news agency as saying: "There is an agreement." He said there would be "systematic" checks of passengers and luggage entering the airport.

There is no official confirmation of the terms of the deal. Earlier authorities had rejected extensive checks outside the terminal, saying the resulting queues would create fresh security risks.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The departure area was badly damaged in the bombing

The deal could allow for the airport to reopen "in the coming days", Mr Gilles said.

AFP quotes a government as saying: "We hope that the airport can reopen Sunday morning."

Officials have said that the departures area would initially operate at 20% of capacity, receiving only 800 departing passengers per hour.

Criminal backgrounds

The airport operator's chief executive, Arnaud Feist, said earlier this week that the airport would take months to reopen fully.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police are still searching for the suspect on the right

In an earlier open letter to authorities published by Belgian broadcaster VRT (in Dutch), police had said they had sent "strong daily signals regarding the overall security at the airport".

They also alleged that too many airport employees had criminal backgrounds.

Police are still searching for the third man who took part in the airport attacks. The man, pictured on CCTV wearing a hat, was said to have fled the scene without detonating his explosive device.

The airport bombers who died have been named as Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui.

Bakraoui's brother, Khalid el-Bakraoui, blew himself up at Maelbeek metro station.

Police later found a computer in which Ibrahim el-Bakraoui left a final message.

The BBC has learned that the same computer contained plans and photos of Prime Minister Charles Michel's office and home.

Also on Friday, an Italian court approved the extradition of Djamal Eddine Ouali, an Algerian national accused of forging identity documents for those involved in the Brussels bombings and in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November.

Mr Ouali, 40, was arrested last weekend in the southern Italian city of Salerno. The court said he would be sent to Belgium within 10 says. His lawyer said he would appeal.