ISIS Suicide Bombers at Brussels Airport 'Targeted U.S. Airline, Jews'

Maalbeek station after Brussels attacks
Broken glass and blood outside an entrance to Maelbeek metro station following a suicide attack at Brussels Airport, Brussels, March 22, 2016. Carl Court/Getty

The suicide bombers who attacked Brussels airport last year, killing 16 people, were targeting an American airline, its passengers and Jewish people, according to a report citing sources close to the investigation.

The Belgian sources, speaking to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, said that investigators consider the Delta Air Lines check-in desk to have been a main target for the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) bombers, Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, in the March 2016 attack.

"We know they wanted to target Americans," one source said. "It's clear they had quite specific targets."

He added: "We know they were obsessed with the Israelis too."

Jews traveling to Israel were also a target, according to the sources, with one of the bombers allegedly following a group of Hasidic Jews before detonating his device.

Read more: The jihadi web of Brussels: raids, robberies and recruitment

Another source said that Laachraoui was standing among dozens of students before changing tack and following two Hasidic Jews, usually recognizable by their long beards, sidecurls known as peyot and dark overclothes. "The attacker seemed to rush towards two Orthodox Jews," the source said. "He really, clearly wanted to kill a Jew."

An hour after the two detonated their devices at Brussels Airport, Ibrahim's brother Khalid detonated a suicide bomb at Maalbeek metro station, killing another 16 people. The death toll in the attacks was 35, including the three attackers.

"They are the obvious target [for radical Islamist extremists in Europe]. Jews, because of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the members of the coalition fighting ISIS," warns Alain Winants, the former head of Belgian intelligence who stepped down in 2013.

Belgium remains on heightened alert after security services in the small EU nation became overwhelmed by the threat of radical Islamists.

Several of the ISIS attackers who launched an assault on Paris in November 2015 came from Brussels. The manhunt for Salah Abdeslam, the lone surviving member of the Paris cell who decided against carrying out the attack, revealed an extensive network in the Belgian capital. Authorities believe his arrest accelerated the network's plot to attack Brussels.

The Belgian interior ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.