A Moment of Glory Under a Cloud of Shame: A Brother of Belgian Suicide Bomber Advances to Rio

Mourad Laachraoui victorious
Mourad Laachraoui (center) wins gold in the European Taekwondo Championship on May 18, 2016.

It is hard to imagine. You train and train in relative anonymity, hoping for a spot on the team that takes you to the Olympics. And when you finally make the team, you become the topic of terrible news.

On May 18, Mourad Laachraoui won gold in the European Taekwondo Championships, and earned the right to represent Belgium at the Rio Olympics. The 20-year-old defeated Jesus Tortosa of Spain to take the 54-kilogram division championship.

The victory triggered a media avalanche, for Laachraoui has the misfortune of being the younger brother of Najim Laachraoui, the now infamous terrorist who made the bombs used in attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, and the explosions at the Brussels Airport on March 22 2016. In a time when Laachraoui should be ecstatic with glee and glowing with hope, he and his family read such headlines: “Mourad Laachraoui: Suicide bomber’s brother wins European gold”.

Najim Laachraoui at Brussels Airport
Images of Najim Laachraoui at the Brussels Airport

Najim had apparently disconnected from his family when he moved to Syria in 2013. When asked about his brother in the aftermath of the Belgium bombings, Mourad said he was “sad and ashamed.” “Our family has the same questions you all have,” he said in March. “He [Najim] used to be a nice intelligent guy. I couldn’t believe it.”

According to this article, the lawyer for the Olympian said that Najim “was dead to Mourad from as soon as he went to Syria. He said the family were no longer able to live their lives normally and could not even go to the shops.” Apparently, since Najim died in the suicide bomb attack in Brussels, the family has lived holed up in their home with curtains closed at all times. Mourad said at the time, though, that he would continue to fight and win a spot to represent his home country of Belgium.

And fight and win he did.

But the victory is not yet so sweet.