On March 22, 2016, three coordinated suicide bombings occurred in Brussels, Belgium. Two at Brussels Airport and one at Maalbeek metro station. Thirty-two civilians were killed and more than 300 people were injured.
Oussama Atar, a former detainee of U.S. and Iraqi detention centers in Iraq, is suspected of being the leading operative of both attacks in Paris and Brussels.
According to Andre Jacob, the former head of Belgian Intelligence, he first met 22 year-old Atar in 2006. He was being detained in Camp Cropper for illegally crossing into Iraq from Syria.
"I saw a young boy disappointed to be there," Jacob told CNN investigators Erin McLaughlin and Margot Haddad. "Surprised also, and who was trying to tell us that he wasn't a terrorist, but he was in Iraq to help Iraqis, and not to be a foreign fighter."
“For me, Atar didn’t have a profile of a terrorist when he left Belgium.” He was “someone who wanted to almost apologize.”
"He was understanding that he made mistakes and he should have never gone to Iraq but he didn't see any exit.”
"Our conclusion ... was that this person could potentially be recuperated but it was just a suggestion. Then the decision is taken by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the American authorities.
"But the Americans didn't want to take that risk to free a person who could potentially be a terrorist."
American authorities resisted the idea of allowing Atar being returned to Belgium. Ultimately, he ended up serving seven years between various detention centers before being released. During that time, he was exposed to and mingled with some of the most notorious detainees in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who would eventually create ISIS.
"His time in the Iraqi prisons and American jails made him become a character who's more than radicalized -- he became a terrorist," Jacob continued.
Atar returned to Brussels in late 2012 and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Travel documents show he went to Turkey via Tunisia in 2013. In that brief time he quickly rose up the ranks of ISIS and is now identified by suspects in custody as being the most important known leader of the terrorist organization.
Since then, the U.S. Department of Defense has made changes to its policies and procedures regarding detainment of suspects.
In an official statement, they said “We have learned from Atar’s case and will do our best to ensure the same outcome doesn’t happen again. Our suspicions were correct at the start and from now on we will better trust our instincts and not give into international pressure.”
In a revision of policy in American detention centers, anyone with the “potential” to be a terrorist will no longer be released. In order to be deemed as a potential danger, two conditions must be met:
1) Having reason to hold ill will against the U.S.
2) Being able bodied
The first condition is automatically met when detained by American authorities.