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Brussels Attacks: Bombers Filmed Nuclear Researcher, Expert Says

The brothers behind this week's Brussels bombings also spied on a top nuclear researcher in the hope of building a so-called "dirty bomb."
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/ Source: Reuters

The brothers behind this week's Brussels bombings also spied on a top nuclear researcher and hoped to build a so-called "dirty bomb," an expert involved in a probe into ISIS threats told NBC News on Thursday.

Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui were responsible for planting a hidden camera outside the Belgian researcher's house, according to Claude Moniquet, a French former intelligence official who was hired to investigate potential plots targeting Europe's nuclear sector.

Image: El Bakraoui brothers
Khalid (left) and Ibrahim El Bakraoui (right).Interpol / via AFP - Getty Images

This camera produced more than 10 hours of film showing the comings and goings of senior researcher at a Belgian nuclear center and his family — footage that was seized during a Belgian raid in November, officials announced last month.

Moniquet, who is CEO of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center private consultancy, revealed to NBC News on Thursday that the El Bakraoui brothers were behind that failed plot.

"We can imagine that the terrorists might want to kidnap someone or kidnap his family"

"The terrorist cell ... naively believed they could use him to penetrate a lab to obtain nuclear material to make a dirty bomb," he said.

While the plot "did not happen" the investigation confirmed that it was the el Bakraoui brothers who "put a camera in front of the house to take the images."

Belgium's Federal Agency for Nuclear Control confirmed to NBC News on Thursday that the nuclear expert who was spied on was "one of the top researchers" at the SCKCEN Belgian nuclear research center in Mol, 45 miles northeast of Brussels.

"If terrorists are filming one of the top guys in the research center then it is very serious," FANC spokesman Lodewijk van Bladel said. "It means they are planning to do something afterwards with that information ... I don't think they going to make a family movie."

Bladel would not comment on the identity of the perpetrators due to the ongoing investigation.

Image: nuclear power plant in Tihange
The nuclear power plant in Tihange, Belgium.JULIEN WARNAND / EPA

Following Tuesday's attacks in Brussels, extra troops were deployed at Belgium's Doel and Tihange nuclear plants and all non-essential staff were allowed to go home.

These facilities would be operating at this level of reduced staffing for the foreseeable future to ensure no unauthorized personnel could gain access, a spokesman for Belgium's Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) told Reuters on Tuesday.

Experts believe the brothers spied on the researcher, who has not been identified for his own safety, and planned to blackmail him to acquire dangerous material.

"We can imagine that the terrorists might want to kidnap someone or kidnap his family," Nele Scheerlinck, another spokeswoman for FANC, said in February after the footage was first revealed.

The researcher worked at a center which stored a “significant portion of the world's supply of radioisotopes,” according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

These isotopes are used in hospitals and factories around the world but can also be used to make a so-called “dirty bomb” — a device that could spread radioactive material across a wide area.

Ibrahim, 29, was one of the attackers who blew themselves up at Brussels airport. Just over an hour later, his 27-year-old brother Khalid carried out a suicide bombing at a metro station in the city. At least 30 people died and hundreds more were injured.

They also provided a safe house and weapons to the men who carried out attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.