Updated March 23, 2016 07:25:09
A string of apparently coordinated explosions have ripped through Brussels Airport and a city metro station, killing at least 34 people and injuring more than 106 others on a “black day” for Belgium.
- Two simultaneous explosions rock Brussels Airport at 8:00am local time
- At 9:00am, a blast hits Maelbeek metro station, near the European Union’s main buildings
- At least 34 people dead, all public transport shut down
- Islamic State militants have claimed the attack
Security was tightened across the jittery continent and transport links paralysed after the blasts that Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel branded “violent and cowardly”.
The Islamic State group has since claimed responsibility for the attacks in a series of statements.
“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,” the group’s AMAQ news agency said.
The attacks began with twin explosions — one of which was likely a suicide bombing — in the international departures lounge at the airport’s Zaventem terminal.
A short time later a third blast hit the Maelbeek metro station, near the European Union’s main buildings, just as commuters were making their way to work in rush hour.
At least 14 people were killed in the airport blasts, while 20 people died in the metro attack, Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told a news conference.
Belgian media published a CCTV image of three suspects pushing luggage trolleys at the airport.
Police say two of the men died in the attacks, but issued a wanted notice for the third man who is reported to be on the run.
Local media reported that a third undetonated explosive device was found at the airport, along with a Kalashnikov assault rifle next to one of the dead attackers.
A military explosives team have since neutralised the device in a controlled explosion.
The attacks occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in November’s attacks in Paris that killed 130 people .
Belgium raised its terror threat to the maximum level after the blasts, while locals were warned to stay inside and security was boosted across Europe.
Belgium will hold three days of national mourning in the wake of the deadly attacks.
“All national flags on public buildings will be at half-mast through Thursday,” Frederic Cauderlier, a government spokesman said.
‘Like big giant fireworks’
- Photo: A private security guard helps a wounded woman outside the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels. (AFP: Michael Villa)
- Photo: Two women sit on chairs after being injured in the Brussels Airport explosions. (Facebook: Ketevan Kardava)
- Photo: Glass windows blown out and smoke billowing from Brussels airport. (Twitter)
- Photo: Passengers flee Brussels Airport after two explosions. (Reuters: Francois Lenoir)
- Photo: Broken windows seen at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters: Francois Lenoir)
- Photo: People leave the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters: Francois Lenoir)
- Photo: Smoke arising from Brussels airport terminal after two explosions reportedly hit just before 8:00am (local time). (Twitter: Daniela Schwarzer)
- Photo: Smoke pours from the entrance of Maelbeek metro station, just after an explosion during peak hour commute. (AFP: Seppe Knapen/ Belga)
- Photo: People help the injured outside Maelbeek metro station after an explosion. (Twitter: Barbara Surk/ Politico Europe)
- Photo: Emergency services at the scene of explosions at Brussels Airport, Belgium. (Reuters: Francois Lenoir)
Witnesses told of 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.
After the metro blast, more than a dozen people were lying on the pavement outside with bloodied faces and were being treated by emergency services.
Black smoke and clouds of dust billowed from the station entrance, about a hundred metres from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
“We feared a terror attack and it happened. I would like to call on everybody to show calmness and solidarity,” Mr Michel said, labelling it a “black day”.
Witnesses said words were shouted in Arabic before the airport blasts.
“A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg,” airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura told AFP, his hands bloodied.
“It wasn’t super loud but it was really powerful and it was a very wide explosion. There was a lot of damage around the location,” he said.
“Instantly everybody started screaming and crying a lot.”
Politico Europe journalist James Penike was near the metro station, and said the injured people were being treated on the footpath.
“It looks like there might have been a bomb on one of those trains,” he told ABC News 24.
EU President Donald Tusk said the attacks “mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence”, while French President Francois Hollande also condemned the attacks.
“Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit,” he said, urging the continent to take “vital steps in the face of the seriousness of the threat.
DFAT checking if Australians affected
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted: “Deeply concerned by the attacks in Brussels. Australians’ thoughts, prayers & solidarity are with the people of Belgium.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said her department was working to determine if any Australians were affected, but Australian diplomatic staff are safe.
There has been a high state of alert across western Europe for fear of militant attacks backed by Islamic State militant group.
Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action after the arrest of Abdeslam, who remains in a high-security prison in Belgium.
First posted March 22, 2016 18:31:12
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