By Alexander Jusdanis
Rabat – Belgian taekwondo practitioners Mourad Laachraoui and Si Mohamed Ketbi and their coach Abdelkhalak Mkadmi were refused entrance to the United States on Wednesday, preventing the young Olympic athletes from participating in the 2017 Taekwondo US Open in Las Vegas.
As they attempted to board their flight at the Brussels airport, the three Belgian athletes of Moroccan descent were told that they would not be allowed to enter the plane as their Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) permits had been denied, despite having been approved for ESTA in January. ESTA allows citizens of 38 countries, including Belgium, to visit the US for up to 90 days without a visa.
Two hours before take-off, the Association Belge Francophone de Taekwondo (ABFT), which had applied for the athletes’ ESTA on their behalf, received an email saying the permits had been denied without explanation. Laachraoui, Ketbi, and Mkadmi themselves were not notified until they tried to board.
Both Laachraoui and Ketbi represented Belgium at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Laachraoui is the brother of Najim Laachraoui, one of two suicide bombers responsible for the Brussels airport bombings in 2016.
Having lost around 5000 euros on cancelled flights and accommodations, the ABFT decided to withdraw the participation of the two athletes. In a statement, the Federation expressed their disappointment, saying that “the decision has a direct impact on the Belgian representatives of our sport.”