Terrorist Attacks Strike Brussels
A series of explosions believed to be the result of terror attacks has left more than two dozen people dead, and dozens more wounded, in the capital of Belgium just days after the arrest of a major suspect in last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris:
BRUSSELS — A series of deadly terrorist attacks struck Brussels on Tuesday, with two explosions at the city’s main international airport, and a third in a subway station at the heart of the city.
According to news agencies, 13 people were killed at the airport, and 15 in the subway bombing, while 30 others were wounded. Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium said there were “numerous” dead. “We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened,” he said. At least one of the two explosions at the airport appeared to have been set off by a suicide bomber, officials said.
The attacks, a vivid illustration of the continued threat to Europe, occurred four days after the capture on Friday of Europe’s most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam. Mr. Abdeslam is believed to be the sole survivor of the 10 men who were directly involved in the attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris on Nov. 13.
Mr. Michel issued an extraordinary appeal to the population to “avoid all movement,” as the authorities braced for possible further attacks.
The French government ordered 1,600 extra police officers to patrol the nation’s borders, including at train stations, airports and ports. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain called an emergency meeting of ministers.
The attacks put the Belgian capital in a state of virtual lockdown. All flights were canceled for the day. All subway, tram and bus travel was shut down. Eurostar canceled its trains connecting Brussels with Paris and London. Thalys, which runs high-speed trains linking dozens of cities in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, suspended service. Cellphone lines were jammed as panicked travelers and Belgians tried to make calls.
The events on Tuesday began with a pair of explosions at a departure hall atBrussels Airport, in the town of Zaventem, about seven miles northeast of the city center, just before 8 a.m.
“We were going to check in around 7:30 a.m.,” said one traveler, Ilaria Ruggiano. “There were seven of us. We were a bit late. We heard a big noise and saw a big flash. My mother went to the floor — she was hit. I just dropped my luggage and went to the floor. A kid came out, bleeding a lot. I tried to help him with a tissue, but it was not enough. There were two bombs.”
Another passenger, Jérôme Delanois, said he was at an Internet cafe near the Delta Air Lines counter when he heard a thunderous noise. “There were two explosions — one big one and one little one,” he said. “The first one blew all the walls and everything. There were burning flames. The first one was bigger. It blew out all the windows.”
Belinda How, a traveler from Malaysia who was in Brussels for a vacation, said she had been lining up to check in for an Etihad Airways flight when she heard the blast. “I was the last passenger queuing up,” she said. “I was very close to the first blast. Everybody was screaming.”
She added: “I said to my son — he is a Down syndrome special-needs child — ‘You have to run.’ He said, ‘My leg hurts.’ I think he was panicked. I left my luggage, dragged him and ran. Before I ran out, there was another bomb.”
Alan Merbaum, who had flown in from Washington, said he had narrowly avoided the blast.
“I heard what sounded like a thud a minute or so before 8 a.m.,” he said. “It sounded like it could have been something dropped off the back of a truck. Ten to 20 seconds later, I heard a loud explosion and I immediately knew what it was. I saw smoke coming out of the front entrance of the airport.”
Photographs posted online showed passengers covered in blood and soot, looking stunned but conscious. Some passengers were seen being taken away on luggage carts.
Other images posted on social media showed smoke rising from a departure hall, where the windows had been blown out, and people running away from the building. Hundreds were herded outside.
Around 9:10 a.m., another blast shook the Maelbeek subway station in downtown Brussels, not far from the area that houses most of the European Union’s core institutions, according to the Belgian broadcaster RTBF. The Brussels transport authority said on Twitter that all subway stations were closing.
“We felt a boom, we felt the building tremble,” said Henk Stuten, 50, who works for the European Commission in an office above the station. “We saw through the windows that people were rushing out of the metro exit.”
About 10 to 15 minutes later, the office was evacuated, Mr. Stuten said. Some people were “very calm,” others were “very emotional,” he added.
He said most of the wounded were on Rue de la Loi, outside the station.
“There were colleagues who just five minutes before were in the metro,” he said. “You realize how close these things can come to you.”
Christian De Coninck, a spokesman for the Brussels police, told reporters near the Maelbeek subway station that several people had been killed, but he did not have a number.
Mr. De Coninck was unable to say how many blasts had taken place at the station. He appealed to everyone in the area to stay indoors to avoid getting in the way of the emergency services.
Earlier in the morning, police officers taped off the numerous streets leading to the subway station as emergency vehicles raced to the blast sites.
Ambulances were clustered around the entrance, next to the normally busy Rue de la Loi, which runs through the heart of the so-called European quarter.
A police helicopter patrolled above the station.
“For the moment, what we know is that there was at least one, possibly two explosions; we are still investigating,” said Sandra Eyschen, a spokeswoman for the Belgian federal police. “There are several injured, we don’t have any exact numbers, and, unfortunately, it appears there are some dead, at least one person.”
Belgium quickly raised its threat status to the maximum level, The Associated Press reported, citing the interior minister, Jan Jambon.
BRUSSELS — Apparently coordinated terrorist explosions rocked Brussels Airport and a metro station Tuesday, leaving at least 26 dead and raising fears that attackers carried out retaliatory strikes after the arrest of a key suspect in last year’s Paris massacres.
The full casualty count remained unclear hours after the attacks, but various Belgian reports and officials said it reached at least 26.
“We are talking about scores of dead,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel without giving clearer estimates after blasts brought down roof panels at the airport’s departure hall and an explosion on the Maelbeek metro platform shrouded it in smoke and littered it with debris.
The Belgian prosecutor’s office described at least one of the airport blasts as part of a suicide attack — the latest apparent terrorist bloodshed in Europe and another sign that militant networks remain able to strike despite widespread crackdowns and investigations across the continent.
Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said the city had come under “terrorist attacks.”
Brussels’s public transportation agency said the subway blast alone left at least 15 dead and 55 injured “so far.”
The Belgian Health Ministry said that 11 people were killed and 81 were wounded in the attack at the airport, Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper reported.
“What we had feared has happened,” Michel said. “This is a black moment for our country.”
The Belgian capital was ordered locked down and was put on a maximum terror alert, with all of the city’s public transportation shut down. The fallout immediately spread beyond Belgium’s borders, displaying the increased worries and security cooperation since November’s Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that an additional 1,600 people were deployed in France and that security was boosted at border posts and major transportation hubs.
“Through the attacks in Brussels, all of Europe is hit,” French President François Hollande wrote on Twitter. On social media, an image soon appeared: A figure draped in the colors of the French flag embracing another tearful figure in the black, yellow and red of Belgium’s banner.
London and other cities, including New York and Washington, also put additional police on the streets.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who was in Jordan meeting with the country’s foreign minister, choked back tears at a news conference after learning of the Brussels attacks.
“We are experiencing the darkest day in the history of our country since the Second World War,” said Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp and the leader of Belgium’s largest political party, the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang, the broadcaster VTM reported.
At the Brussels Airport, located in the suburb of Zaventem, the blasts collapsed ceilings in the departure hall, sent passengers fleeing, and left pools of blood amid splintered signs and abandoned luggage.
The metro station was clogged with smoke as panicked people streamed onto the streets and rescue workers raced toward the mayhem.
The casualty figures could not be immediately confirmed, but some media reports placed the tally higher than 26, suggesting the full count was still unclear hours after the 8 a.m. bloodshed.
Amateur video taken immediately after the airport attack showed streams of panicked passengers running out of the airport. Large clouds of smoke bellowed from the blown-out windows of a terminal building.
The airport was closed, as well as the major roadway leading to the airport. Flights were diverted to Liege Airport, about 50 miles east of Brussels Airport, radio reports said.
The bombing comes just four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the last known living participant in the November attacks on Paris. Abdeslam, 26, was arrested in Brussels’s Molenbeek neighborhood.
About 75 minutes after the blasts at the airport, another explosion ripped through the Maelbeek metro station, Belgian media reported. That station, near the heart of the European Union, serves a busy stretch of E.U. office buildings, embassies and international organizations. The explosion happened near the end of the morning rush hour, when many subway trains are packed with commuters.
Though not quite as broad ranging as the attacks in Paris, today’s attacks share several traits in common with the attacks three months ago, and demonstrate once again that ISIS has a presence in Europe that is going to be a problem for some time going forward. As with the Paris attacks, we see an ability to carry out multi-pronged attacks against multiple targets using distinct means of attack. In Paris, it was a combination of suicide bombers and people armed with automatic weapons. In Brussels, it appears to be a combination of suicide bombers and explosive devices that were likely planted in public places and designed to cause maximum damage. Additionally, these attacks come just days after the arrest on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, one of the prime remaining suspects in the Paris attacks who had not been accounted for in the wake of the November 13th attacks in that city. In the days since the arrest, Belgian and French police involved in the raid and arrest reported that a treasure trove of weapons had been found in the apartment where Abdelam was found and that there were strong indications that he may have been aware of, and involved in the planning of, future terror attacks in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe. The fact that an attack like this occurred just three days after Abdeslam’s arrest suggests both that these attacks had been in the works for some time and that the cell that pulled them off was seemingly able to accelerate its timetable quickly enough to get the attack pulled off before authorities could get Abdeslam to break under questioning. This suggests a level of organization and coordination that would seem to indicate a sophisticated, well-hidden, terror network that could very easily pull off additional attacks in the future.
In addition to putting the ISIS threat back on center stage, this attack also once again brings up the unique role that Brussels seems to be playing in the threats that face Europe at this time. The city ended up becoming a focus in the wake up both the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015 and the November attacks in Paris due to the fact that it appeared to be something of a safe zone for the people involved in the attacks, as well as a source for the weapons and explosives that they used in both attacks. Abdeslam, who many authorities believed had escaped all the way to Syria, turns out to have spent the last three months in hiding in the city’s Molenbeek neighborhood, which seems to have become a haven for jihadist elements in recent years. In the days after the Paris attack, Brussels was placed on a high level of alert over fears of a terror attack that were serious enough for the city to effectively shut down over the course of several days. Whether these attacks were connected to that earlier alert, or to an entirely different threat is unclear, but what is clear is that the situation in Europe remains highly dangerous three months after Paris and that the risk of future attacks is quite high.
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