Top lawmakers briefed on the Brussels attacks say it’s likely the arrest of Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam accelerated the timetable for the bombings in Brussels.
“These attacks must have been in the planning stages for several months, and I think if the cells thought that they may be under investigation, that could prompt them to carry them out more quickly,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Tuesday.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed.
“I think that the plot given the sophistication of it, the explosives used, the multiple points of attack, had to have been in the planning prior to Abdeslam's arrest, but very well could have been accelerated because of that arrest,” he said, adding that his arrest “may have still saved lives” by forcing the plotters to speed up their timetable.
Lawmakers suggested a link between ISIS and the attacks after the discovery of an ISIS flag in a raid by Belgian authorities. The terror group also claimed responsibility for the bombings.
“I think it has all the hallmarks of an external operation, not only inspired [by ISIS],” McCaul said. “I think this is probably again one of these foreign fighter-type threats we saw in the Paris attacks, and we know that the tenth Paris attacker was taken into custody several days ago and there’s some talk about cooperation.”
Schiff said the attackers “certainly look like they’re connected” to the Paris attackers, but did not elaborate on any connections.
“It’s hard to imagine that this is unconnected with what we saw in Paris,” he said.
The California Democrat said he is concerned about follow-up attacks in Brussels “or even potentially more likely in Paris or Germany.”
Asked how the U.S. could address some of the security concerns at home after the attacks, Schiff said “there’s only so much you can do.”
“Some target are just going to be too soft to really defend,” he said.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, another member of the House Intelligence Committee, was at a loss for words when asked how Congress should respond to the bombings.
“There is no magic bullet here,” he said.