Tuesday Mar 22, 2016
BRUSSELS: At least 37 people were killed and dozens injured in twin attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital on Tuesday, triggering security alerts across western Europe and bringing some cross-border transport to a halt.
Belgian public broadcaster VRT raised the death toll the attacks in Brussels to 37, with 20 people killed in the blast on a metro train and 17 in explosions at the airport.
The federal prosecutor said one of the blasts was probably triggered by a suicide bomber at the packed departure lounge at Brussels airport.
The STIB public transport operator said at least 55 others were wounded in the Brussels Metro explosion, with 10 injured said to be in a critical condition. The bomb exploded just as the train arrived at metro station during the morning rush hour.
The blasts at the airport and metro station occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
Belgian police and combat troops on the streets had been on alert for any reprisal action but the attacks took place in crowded public areas where people and bags are not searched.
Video showed devastation in the hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes. Smoke rose from the building through shattered windows and passengers fled down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.
Many of the dead and wounded were badly injured in the legs, one airport told news agency Reuters, suggesting at least one bomb in a bag.
Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all wary of spillover from conflict in Syria, were among states announcing extra security measures.
'VERY LOUD EXPLOSIONS'
All public transport in Brussels was shut down, as it was in London during 2005 terrorist attacks there that killed 52.
Authorities appealed to citizens not to use overloaded telephone networks, extra troops were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: "Stay where you are".
Geo News correspondent Khalid Hameed Farooqi, who was close to the airport at the time, said the explosions could be heard from afar.
He said that smoke could be seen rising from near the airport.
British Sky News television's Alex Rossi, at the airport, said he heard two "very, very loud explosions".
"I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well…I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked."
Alphonse Youla, 40, who works at the airport, told Reuters he heard a man shouting out in Arabic before the first explosion. "Then the glass ceiling of the airport collapsed."
"I helped carry out five people dead, their legs destroyed," he said, his hands covered in blood.
A witness said the blasts occurred at a check-in desk.
ROYAL PALACE EVACUATED
Belgium's royal palace in central Brussels was also evacuated following the bomb blasts at the nearby metro station and the city's airport that left a total of 26 dead, Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said.
The broadcaster said King Philippe and Queen Mathilde were in shock, but it did not specify whether they had actually been in residence on Tuesday.
The palace could not immediately be reached for comment.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel spoke of "a black time for our country".
"What we feared has come to pass. Our country has been struck by attacks which are blind, violent and cowardly."
The blast hit the train as it left Maelbeek station, close to European Union institutions, heading to the city centre.
The VRT public broadcaster carried a photograph of a metro carriage at a platform with doors and windows completely blown out, its structure deformed and the interior mangled and charred.
A local journalist tweeted a photograph of a person lying covered in blood among smoke outside Maelbeek metro station, on the main Rue de la Loi avenue which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions.
Ambulances were ferrying the wounded away and sirens rang out across the area.
The federal prosecutor told a news conference one of the two explosions at the airport was likely to have been caused by a suicide bomber.
FLIGHTS CANCELLED, PASSENGERS EVACUATED
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told the news conference: "What we had feared has come to pass. Our country has been struck by attacks that are blind, violent and cowardly."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose country is also on a high security alert, expressed shock over the attack. "We will do everything we can to help."
Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights until at least 6 am (0500 GMT) on Wednesday 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.
All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were suspended.
Security services have been on a high state of alert across western Europe for fear of militant attacks backed by Daesh (Islamic State), which claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.
While most European airports are known for stringent screening procedures of passengers and their baggage, that typically takes place only once passengers have checked in and are heading to the departure gates.
Although there may be discreet surveillance, there is nothing to prevent member of the public walking in to the departure hall at Zaventem airport with heavy baggage.
Following an attempted ramraid attack at Glasgow Airport in 2007, several airports stepped up security at entrances by altering the pick-up and drop-off zones to prevent private cars getting too close to terminal buildings.
European stocks fell after the explosions, particularly travel sector stocks including airlines and hotels, pulling the broader indices down from multi-week highs. Safe-haven assets, gold and government bonds rose in price.
French citizen Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect for November's Paris attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall, was captured by Belgian police after a shootout on Friday.
Belgium’s Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a revenge attack.
"We know that stopping one cell can…push others into action. We are aware of it in this case," he told public radio.