The younger brother of a suicide bomber who blew himself up during the terrorist attacks earlier this year in Brussels will represent Belgium at the Olympics in Brazil after winning a gold medal at the European Taekwondo Championships.
Mourad Laachraoui, 21, is one of 185 Belgian Olympians bound for Rio de Janeiro this summer. But while one brother carries the Belgian flag as a martial arts champion, the other took a very different path.
Najim Laachraoui, 24, was one of two men who blew themselves up at the Brussels airport on March 22, killing 15 bystanders. In a coordinated attack, another man detonated a bomb at a busy Brussels metro station, killing 17. Authorities also suspect that Najim made explosive belts that were used during the terrorist attacks in Paris last November.
"It's crazy, really — the same parents, the same upbringing, and one turns out really well and the other really bad," Mourad's lawyer Philippe Culot said in March.
Najim reportedly attended Catholic school and later studied electrical engineering, but he left Belgium in 2013 to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.
Some news reports have painted him as adrift, unsettled, and searching for identity. The brothers and their three other siblings were raised by their parents in Schaerbeek, a poor suburb of Brussels. Citing court documents, the New York Times reported that Najim had fallen into the orbit of a radical street preacher named Khalid Zerkani.
In a news conference two days after the Brussels attacks, Mourad told reporters that his older brother was a nice, intelligent person who had shown no signs of radicalization before he left for Syria and broke off all contact with his family. The family alerted the police after Najim told them he was in Syria, Mourad said, adding that he plans to do everything possible to ensure that his three younger siblings do not become radicalized.
Mourad told reporters he was "ashamed and sad" about his brother's role in the November attacks, and said that he never saw his brother with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected mastermind of the attacks.
"You don't choose your family," he said.
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Reuters contributed to this report
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