- Over 150 reported injured as blasts at departure lounge of Brussels airport and metro terminals trigger transport shutdown, with all flights halted in and out of the airport and city’s metro, tram and bus services suspended
- Terrorist attack comes days after dramatic arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in Paris terror attacks that killed 130 people in Nov last year
- Britain, France, Germany among several European countries who have raised threat alerts
Explosions, at least one likely caused by a suicide bomber, rocked the Brussels airport and subway system Tuesday, killing at least 35 and prompting a lockdown of the Belgian capital and heightened security across Europe. Daesh or the self-styled Islamic State (IS) militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State,” the Aamaq news agency said.
Twenty people were killed in a blast on a Brussels metro train, the mayor of Brussels said at a news conference.
“There are some 20 people dead and 106 people injured. 17 people are severely injured,” said Yvan Mayeur.
Two explosions targeted the main hall of Zaventem Airport at around 8am, with a third hitting the Maalbeek metro station, near the European Union’s main buildings, just as commuters were making their way to work in rush hour.
The blasts come days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks that killed 130 people in November, after four months on the run.
There were chaotic scenes at the airport as passengers fled in panic, with a thick plume of smoke rising from the main terminal building.
The blasts smashed the windows of the departure hall and sent ceiling tiles shattering to the floor.
Sky News in London said the blasts had occurred in the departures lounge and cited reports it had occurred near the American Airlines desk.
Witnesses told Belga news agency there had been shots and shouts in Arabic at the airport before the blasts hit at the airport on the northwest outskirts of Brussels.
Brussels Airport serves over 23 million passengers a year.
‘Attack against democratic Europe’:
“There have been two explosions at the airport. Building is being evacuated. Don’t come to the airport area,” the airport said on Twitter, as police cars and rescue vehicles rushed to the scene.
“All airport operations have been suspended until further notice,” it said.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced that Belgium’s terror threat had been raised from three to a maximum of four.
Airports in neighbouring France, Germany and the Netherlands as well as Britain swiftly boosted security in response.
The blasts triggered a transport shutdown in Brussels, with all flights halted in and out of the airport and the city’s metro, tram and bus services suspended.
European Union staff in Brussels, where the 28-nation bloc has its headquarters, were told to stay indoors or at home.
Security increased at European transport hubs:
Britain’s official terrorist threat level stands at “severe,” the second-highest level on a five-point scale, meaning an attack is highly likely.
French President Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting after explosions targeted Brussels airport and a metro station at morning rush hour.
France’s top security official said the country is reinforcing security at airports, train stations and metros after Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven branded the blasts an “attack against democratic Europe”, while British Premier David Cameron tweeted: “I am shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels. We will do everything we can to help.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the West’s politics of “double standards” have led to terrorist attacks and that frozen diplomatic relations between NATO and Russia have slowed the fight with terrorism.
Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Brussels.
In a statement, they said the world must put up a joint resistance and fight against terrorism. They said no religion allows the barbaric and inhuman acts of killing fellow human beings.
Europe’s main stock markets retreated as the news broke, with London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index dropping 0.6 percent compared with Monday’s close and Frankfurt’s DAX 30 shedding 1.1 percent.
Brussels attacks ‘violate’ Islamic teachings:
Sunni Islam’s leading seat of learning, Al-Azhar, said Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels “violate the tolerant teachings of Islam,” and urged the international community to confront the “epidemic” of terrorism.
“Al-Azhar strongly condemns these terrorist attacks. These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam,” the Cairo-based Al-Azhar said in a statement.
“If the international community does not unite to confront this epidemic, the corrupt will not stop from committing heinous crimes against the innocent.”
On high alert:
The blasts occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
Belgium’s Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a possible revenge attack following the capture of 26-year-old Abdeslam.
“We know that stopping one cell can … push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” he told public radio.
French investigator Francois Molins told a news conference in Paris on Saturday that Abdeslam, a French citizen born and raised in Brussels, admitted to investigators he had wanted to blow himself up along with others at the Stade de France on the night of the attack claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS); but he later backed out.
Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.