Khalid el-Bakraoui
Brussels suicide bomber Khalid el-Bakraoui rented a flat under the name of Ibrahim Maaroufi, a Belgian-Moroccan footballer Reuters/Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty Images

One of the Brussels suicide bombers assumed the identity of a professional footballer to rent a flat used as safe house by jihadists planning the November attacks in Paris. In September 2015, Khalid el-Bakraoui, who blew himself up inside a crowded subway train in the Belgian capital on 22 March, registered an apartment in Charleroi, about 60km (37 miles) south of Brussels, under the name of Ibrahim Maaroufi.

Prosecutors said the premises were later used by the Islamic State (Isis) cell preparing the series of coordinated shootings and bombings that hit the French capital a couple of months later. Bakraoui used an alias possibly because he was already the subject of an arrest warrant as he had breached parole related to an earlier armed robbery conviction.

The name he came up with, however, was not of fantasy, security sources told Italian media. Ibrahim Maaroufi is in fact a Belgian-Moroccan footballer currently playing for the team of a Brussels district that recently came under the spotlight for Islamist ties.

The midfielder was a promising talent in his early years. He was contended by both the Moroccan and Belgian Under 21 squads while on the youth team of Italian powerhouse Inter Milan, for which he made his Serie A debut in 2006.

His career, however, never really took off and Maaroufi went on changing clubs numerous times until he was playing in lower divisions or less prestigious leagues, including in Morocco and Iran. In 2015, he joined FC Schaerbeek, from the namesake northern Brussels district home to a large migrant community.

The neighbourhood attracted a dubious notoriety in the aftermath of the attacks. One of the suicide bombers, Najim Laachraoui, 24, was a native and police found explosives when they raided a local flat that was allegedly used as bomb factory by the attackers.

More than 30 people were killed and scores injured when Bakraoui detonated a suicide vest at the Maelbeek metro station about an hour after his older brother Ibrahim, 29, and Laachraoui set off explosions at the Zaventem airport. Detectives believe the attacks had been planned by the same network behind the carnage in Paris and were precipitated by the arrest of the main suspect in the French incident, Salah Abdeslam.