A man who triggered a suitcase bomb in a failed attack at a busy Brussels train station was a 36-year-old Moroccan citizen who was known to the police but was not wanted over terrorism-related offenses, the Belgian authorities said on Wednesday.
The bomber entered Brussels Central Station at 8:39 p.m. on Tuesday, went downstairs from the main ticket hall and began shouting near a group of passengers, according to Eric Van der Sijpt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office.
He was carrying a suitcase bomb that contained nails and gas bottles, Mr. Van der Sijpt said. The man set off a partial and relatively harmless explosion.
He then left the bag behind while he went in pursuit of a station master, Mr. Van der Sijpt said, and it “exploded a second time, more violently.”
After the second explosion, the man went back upstairs, approached a soldier and screamed “Allahu akbar” (Arabic for “God is great”). The soldier opened fire, killing him. Initial reports that the man might have been wearing a suicide belt proved to be unfounded.
While the attack was successfully averted — and Belgian authorities praised the soldier for his quick response — it once again shone a spotlight on Belgium, a linguisticallydivided and politically fragmented country that has been used as a base by jihadists. Some are homegrown radicals. Others have traveled to Syria or Iraq and joined the Islamic State.
Militants based in Brussels were linked to deadly attacks in and around Paris in November 2015, and bombings of Brussels Airport and subway station in the city in March 2016. More than 160 people died in those sets of attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
A number of militants involved in the earlier attacks had roots in Morocco, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a ringleader of the Paris attacks who grew up in Belgium; two brothers, Salah and Ibrahim Abdeslam, who were among the Paris attackers; Mohamed Abrini, who accompanied two suicide bombers in the Brussels Airport attack; Najim Laachraoui, a bomb maker who blew himself up at Brussels Airport; and another pair of brothers, Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui, who died in the Brussels bombings. (Salah Abdeslam and Mr. Abrini are being held awaiting trial.)
About 100,000 people with Moroccan citizenship live in Belgium, which has a population of 1.1 million. Moroccan-Belgians are the country’s largest minority group with roots outside the European Union.
Belgium, a home to the headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has been on alert for more than 18 months.
Many Moroccan men were recruited in the 1960s to work in Belgium’s mines and factories on temporary contracts, but stayed on and eventually brought their wives and families. Many then became citizens and it is their children and sometimes their grandchildren — albeit only a tiny minority of the population — who have been drawn to jihadist ideology.
Often, according to experts who have studied the phenomenon, future militants start with petty crime and then search for an identity to frame their illicit activity, or to atone for past misdeeds.
Prosecutors said the suspect — whom they identified only as Oussama Z. — came from Molenbeek, a working-class immigrant neighborhood that has been connected to the Paris and Brussels attackers. He was known to police for sexual misconduct but not for terrorism.