Belgian military intelligence made at least two approaches to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in 2016, without the knowledge of the minister who oversaw the service, it was revealed by De Morgen newspaper.

The contacts came after the terrorist attacks in March of that year, at Brussels Airport and the Brussels metro. Military intelligence is concerned with all foreign intelligence operations, and had tried to make contact with Syria in order to help determine the whereabouts of jihad extremists in Europe, who might have been planning further attacks.

The service, ADIV/SGRS, had also been in touch with the Kurdish YPG movement, which combats Islamic State in Syria.

The then-head of the service, General Testelmans, now retired, had planned a personal visit, but in the end it never took place.

The military intelligence service falls under the responsibility of the defence ministry. The minister at the time of the contacts, Steven Vandeput (N-VA) denies having had any knowledge of the approach to the Syrian regime. Vandeput stepped down in November last year to become mayor of Hasselt, shortly before his party colleagues left the governing coalition.

As well as information on terrorists in Europe, the paper says, the contacts aimed to establish an emergency line of communication between Belgium and Syria. At the time, Belgian pilots were taking part in bombing missions on IS in Syria. If one of the Belgian F-16 planes had been shot down, military intelligence wanted to be able to find and evacuate him as quickly as possible. However, the contacts failed to achieve the establishment of such a system, for reasons that remain unclear.

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