‘Black day’ for Belgium as terror attacks hit Brussels; 34 killed

(From agencies)

Explosions tore through the departure hall of Brussels airport at 8 am on Tuesday killing up to 14 people and injuring 80 others, the Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said.

Soon after, around 9 am, blasts hit a metro carriage at Maalbeek station killing at least 20 more people.

A photograph taken from CCTV footage at Brussels Airport shows three terror suspects. The man with the hat is of particular interest.

A photograph taken from CCTV footage at Brussels Airport shows three terror suspects linked to the blasts. The man with the hat is of particular interest.

The Belga agency said shots were fired and there were shouts in Arabic shortly before two bombs went off near the American Airlines check-in desk at the airport.

A third bomb was also found at Brussels Airport. The bomb squad subjected it to controlled explosion.

Pictures on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows and passengers running away down a slipway (Watch the video clip), some still hauling their bags.

Brussels airport said it had canceled all flights and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.

A section of the airport’s roof is believed to have collapsed in the explosions.

Police have released a photograph taken from CCTV footage at the airport showing three suspects. They tweeted the photograph that was only intended for internal use. The three people shown are all being tracked down. The man in white with the hat is of particular interest. Police want to question him.

The other two shown in the photo seem to be  suicide bombers.

Police are also searching for one suspect who got away from the Maalbeek metro attack.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said Belgium will remain at the highest possible alert level, level 4, with a new evaluation planned on Wednesday morning. More soldiers will be deployed. Border checks will be strengthened. Everything is being done to allow public transport to resume.

“We will do everything to defend these fundamental values and protect our liberties and way of life,” he said.

The explosions come at a time when the Belgium capital is on high alert for terror attacks after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the chief suspect in the Paris November attacks.

Blast at Maalbeek Metro station

The bomb went off in this metro carriage near Maalbeek station

A metro carriage at Maalbeek station after the bomb blast

An hour after the airport blasts, an explosion inside a metro carriage left 20 dead and several injured at Maalbeek metro station on the Wetstraat.

Television images showed people scrambling to safety (Watch the video clip) as smoke began to fill the metro carriages. Children cried out but other passengers remained remarkably calm as they walked back through the dark tunnel to the previous station.

Many emerged from the metro station with bloody faces. Some of the injured received treatment on the pavement outside the station. As some eyewitnesses recounted the Metro horror (Watch the video clip), most injured commuters were rushed to the headquarters of the Flemish Christian democrat party that is in the vicinity of the Maalbeek station.

Explosions were also reported from Kunst/Wet metro station and Schuman station at the heart of the European district, but these proved to be false alerts.

Brussels has been the focus of the investigation into the Paris attacks ever since it emerged that many of the attackers were from or grew up in the Belgium capital.

Belgium has charged a number of suspects including Salah Abdeslam in relation to the November attacks that left 130 dead.

Security officials survey the scene at Brussels airport after the blasts

Security officials survey the scene inside the Brussels airport after the blasts

Authorities in the Belgium raised their own terror alert after the November attacks and fear of a terror attack increased since Abdeslam’s arrest on Friday.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Monday that Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam told investigators he was planning to “restart something”  in Brussels. He added it maybe the reality as security forces found “a lot of weapons, heavy weapons” during the operation which led to Abdeslam’s arrest on Friday in the Belgian capital.

Investigators say that the terror network that helped organize and carry out the Paris attacks was far larger than they first realized and have been concerned that jihadists were preparing more attacks.

‘22 March will never be a day like any other’

King Filip of Belgium, in his address to the nation, said the country had been plunged into deep mourning.

“For all of us, 22 March will never be a day like any other. Our whole country bears the pain of the lives that have been broken, of the profound wounds that have been inflicted.”

The king expressed his support for the emergency services and gratitude to all of those who spontaneously offered help.

“We will continue to respond together with determination, calmness and dignity to that which threatens us. Let’s maintain confidence in ourselves. This confidence is our strength.”

The Mayor of Brussels Yvan Mayeur called the attacks as “an unprecedented murderous violence”. He called on all Belgians to show their solidarity for their capital.

European leaders condemn attacks

Belgium’s European partners responded with shock and solidarity on Tuesday after the “terrorist attacks.”

“Today is a black day for #Europe. The horrible events in #Brussels affect us all. We are steadfastly at the Belgians’ side,” German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter.

“Our Union’s capital is under attack. We mourn the dead & pledge to conquer terror through democracy,” the Greek foreign ministry said in a tweet.

It added in French,”Nous sommes tous Bruxellois,” — “We are all citizens of Brussels.”

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven described the blasts as “an attack against democratic Europe. We will never accept that terrorists attack our open societies.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: “My heart and spirit in Brussels, Europe,” while Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said “the Brussels attacks strike the heart of our Europe.”

Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen denounced the blasts as a “despicable attack.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the “barbarous crimes… demonstrate once again that terrorism has no borders and threatens people around the world. Fighting this evil calls for the most active international cooperation.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Volkan Bozkir said “every effort must continue to fight terrorism without distinction and those who support terrorism.”

 



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