Two men who escaped from a Syrian prison are Islamic State members from Brussels. Credit: © Belga

The identities of two Islamic State members who escaped a Syrian prison have been revealed, with reports suggesting that the pair, one of whom was reported dead, could be from Brussels.

During a plenary session in the Chamber, the escapees were identified as Yassine Cheikhi and Mohamed Botachbaqut by MP Georges Dallemagne, who said both men were now “under the radar.”

Dallemagne’s confirmation comes after intelligence reports from Belgium’s counter-terrorism agency OCAM/OCAD were made available by its director, Paul Van Tigchelt according to Le Soir.

“[Cheikhi] is 26 years old and had been reported dead,” Dallemagne told the Belga news agency. “[Botachbaqut] is a 46-year-old from Brussels (…) who indicated he wanted to act as a suicide bomber in an attack against Europe.”

“Now, both terrorists have slipped under the radar,” he added.

Both men were sentenced in absentia to five years each in Belgium, according to reports by RTBF.

Cheikhi, who is from Schaerbeek, left for Syria in the summer of 2013 and is said to have a “close relationship” with the deceased, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a central suspected of orchestrating the 2015 Paris attacks.

Botachbaqut, a former plumber, joined the terror group’s ranks in 2014 and is said to be linked to the main recruiting network in Belgium, led by Khalid Zerkani, who was arrested in 2016.

With the region still in the grips of chaos as a result of the Turkish incursion in the area, the men’s whereabouts remain unknown.

According to figures by OCAM, a total of 55 fighters remain in the region who are either Belgian or were in Belgium when they left for Syria.

“It is unlikely that a foreign terrorist fighter can return to Europe without being checked or noticed,” OCAM’s director said.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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