At least 30 dead and more than 220 injured after explosions at Zaventem airport and at Maelbeek metro station near EU buildings in Belgian capital
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the two bomb attacks that killed at least 31 people and injured more than 220 in the departure hall of Brusselsâ€™ Zaventem airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital on Tuesday.
The Isis-affiliated news agency AMAQ said its fighters carried out â€œa series of bombings with explosive belts and devicesâ€. It also said the extremists opened fire at the airport and that â€œseveral of themâ€ detonated suicide belts in both attacks.
In the latest terror attack to hit continental Europe, two blasts targeted the main hall of the airport at about 8am, with a third detonating in the Maelbeek metro station, about 100 metres from the headquarters of the European commission, just over an hour later, during the morning rush-hour.
Belgian police appealed for help identifying one of three men captured on CCTV wheeling baggage trolleys through the airport. The state broadcaster, RTBF, said two of the men were suspected suicide bombers, while the third was being sought.
The coordinated bombings came days after Belgian officials warned of possible attacks following the arrest in a Brussels shootout on Friday of Salah Abdeslam, the only known survivor of the 10 Islamist attackers who killed 130 people in a string of suicide bombings and shootings in Paris in November.
Belgium raised its terror alert to its highest level. The airport was evacuated and all flights suspended or diverted until Wednesday morning. Trains to Zaventem, as well as Thalys and Eurostar international rail services to Brussels, were cancelled for most of the day, and the Brussels metro system shut down. Other airports across Europe tightened security.
â€œWhat we feared has happened: there were two attacks this morning,â€ the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, told a news conference, speaking of a â€œblack dayâ€ for Belgium and adding that more might follow.
Local media quoted witnesses as saying shots were fired and shouts in Arabic heard shortly before the blasts at the airport, which the foreign ministry said killed 11 people. More than 90 were reported injured. Health workers treating the wounded said one of the bombs, which the Belgian state prosecutor confirmed were caused by a suicide attack, may have contained nails.
Pictures and video posted on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows, devastation inside the departure hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor, and passengers running along a slipway, dragging their bags behind them.
Local media said the explosions occurred in the check-in area, close to the counters of Brussels Airlines, American Airlines and handling agency Swissport, and near a Starbucks cafe. The state broadcaster, RTBF, reported a third, unexploded device and two Kalashnikov assault rifles were later found at the scene and controlled explosions carried out by security forces.
Passenger Jef Versele, 40, from Ghent, said he had heard two explosions. â€œEverything was coming down,â€ he said. â€œGlassware. It was chaos. There were lots of people on the ground. About 15 windows were just blown out from the entrance hall.â€
Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM TV a second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with victimsâ€™ blood. â€œIt was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed,â€ he said. â€œThere was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere. It was a war scene.â€
Jean-Pierre Lebeau, a French passenger who had just arrived from Geneva, said he had seen wounded people and â€œblood in the elevatorâ€. Marc Noel, 63, was in an airport shop when the first explosion occurred. â€œPeople were crying, shouting. It was a horrible experience,â€ he said.
More than 1,000 people evacuated from the airport were taken by bus to a nearby sports hall. The wounded from both incidents were being treated at Brusselsâ€™ St Luc university hospital and other city-centre hospitals.
The mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, said 20 people were killed at the Maelbeek metro station, on the rue de la Loi, which connects central Brussels with the main European Union institutions. Emergency workers said as many as 130 people were injured, 17 in a critical condition.
An emergency services spokesman, Pierre Meys, said the blast had been â€œextremely strongâ€. He said: â€œEverything is destroyed, everything is in pieces. There is damage as far away as an underground car park at the end of the street, and the shockwave was felt in the stations on either side. Thatâ€™s why people were talking about two or three explosions.â€
The Brussels metro authority, STIB, said a single blast occurred at 9.11am in the second carriage of a train that was stopped at Maelbeek. First aid was initially administered in a nearby pub, as shocked morning travellers streamed from the station and police set up a security cordon.
Wiping blood from his face, one passenger, Alexandre Brans, 32, told AFP that the metro was â€œjust leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion. It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro.â€
The Belgian capital, home to the headquarters of both the EU and Nato, was in lockdown for most of the day, the metro, tram and bus systems suspended and residents asked to stay off their mobile phones so as not to overload the network. EU staff were told not to come to work.
Barack Obama pledged to â€œdo whatever is necessaryâ€ to help Belgian authorities.
â€œWe stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people,â€ the US president said on a visit to Havana, Cuba, adding that the world â€œmust uniteâ€ regardless of nationality, race or faith in â€œfighting against the scourge of terrorismâ€.
Belgium declared three days of national mourning, while other European capitals condemned the attacks and declared their support. In France, the prime minister, Manuel Valls, said: â€œWe are at war. We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war.â€
President FranÃ§ois Hollande said terrorists had â€œstruck Brussels, but it was Europe that was targeted, and all the world that is concernedâ€. The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said the Eiffel Tower would be lit in the colours of the Belgian flag in â€œsolidarity with Brusselsâ€.
â€œThese attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence,â€ said Donald Tusk, the president of the European council. The British prime minister, David Cameron, said he would chair a Cobra crisis response meeting, adding that he was â€œshocked and concerned by the events in Brusselsâ€.
The German justice minister, Heiko Maas, denounced â€œa black day for Europeâ€ and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said the blasts â€œshow once more that terrorism knows no bordersâ€. Frederica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, fought back tears when she heard of the attacks in Jordan. There were minute silences in the parliaments in Paris, Prague and Madrid.
The Twitter hashtags #Belgium and #PrayForBelgium were trending across Europe and the US within hours of attacks. Images shared included Tintin, the cub reporter created by Belgian cartoonist HergÃ©, saying â€œLetâ€™s be strong,â€ and a drawing by French cartoonist Plantu depicting a figure dressed in French colours putting an arm around a crying Belgian flag.
Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in Novemberâ€™s attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France and a string of cafes and restaurants in Paris, was captured in the Molenbeek district of Brussels where he grew up on Friday, having apparently managed to hide out for more than four months in the Belgian capital, where French and Belgian police believe the Paris attacks were planned.
The Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reynders, warned over the weekend that Abdeslam â€œwas ready to restart something in Brussels, and it may be the reality because we have found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons â€¦ and a new network around him in Brusselsâ€.
The interior minister, Jan Jambon, repeated the warning on Monday, adding that the country was on high alert for a revenge attack. â€œWe know that stopping one cell can â€¦ push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,â€ he told public radio.
Belgian prosecutors this week named one of two men still sought in connection with the Paris attacks as Najim Laachraoui, 24, who reportedly travelled to Syria in 2013 and was previously identified by his alias Soufiane Kayal.
Laachraoui was travelling with Abdeslam in September 2015 when their car was stopped at the Hungarian border with Austria. Also in the car was Mohammed Belkaid, who was shot dead by a police sniper in a raid in Brussels last Tuesday in the operation that led to Abdeslamâ€™s capture three days later.
A second suspect has previously been named as Mohamed Abrini, 31, a Belgian national and childhood friend of Abdeslam in Brussels.