ISIL bombings kill 34 in heart of Europe
BRUSSELS – Reuters
AFP photoAt least 34 people were killed in bombing attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Brussels’ airport and the metro in the Belgian capital on March 22, triggering security alerts across Europe and global expressions of support.
A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic and shots shortly before two blasts struck a packed airport departure lounge at Brussels airport. A federal prosecutor said one of the explosions was probably triggered by a suicide bomber.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel spoke at a Brussels news conference of a “black moment” for his country. “What we had feared has come to pass.”
The blasts occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in the Nov. 13, 2015, ISIL attacks in Paris, Salah Abdeslam. Belgian police and combat troops on the streets had been on alert for reprisals but the attacks took place in crowded areas where people and bags are not searched.
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 toward where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked.”
“Islamic State [ISIL] fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday [March 22], targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels,” said a news agency affiliated with ISIL, the AMAQ agency.
Public broadcaster VRT said police had found a Kalashnikov assault rifle next to the body of an attacker at the airport. Such weapons have become a trademark of ISIL-inspired attacks in Europe, notably in Belgium and France, including on Nov. 13 in Paris.
An unused explosive belt was also found in the area, the public broadcaster said. Police were continuing to scour the airport for any further bombs or attackers.
A crisis center spokesman issued provisional figures of 20 killed in the metro and 10 at the airport. Public broadcaster VRT had said earlier 20 were killed in the train and 14 at the airport.
Many of the dead and wounded at the airport were badly injured in the legs, one airport worker told Reuters, suggesting at least one bomb had been in a bag on the floor.
The other blast hit the train as it left Maelbeek station, close to European Union institutions, heading to the city center.
VRT carried a photograph of a metro carriage at a platform with doors and windows completely blown out, its structure deformed and 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 EU institutions.
Ambulances were ferrying the wounded away and sirens rang out across the city.
All public transport in Brussels was shut down, as it was in London during the 2005 militant attacks there that killed 52. Authorities appealed to citizens not to use overloaded telephone networks, while extra troops were sent into the city. The Belgian crisis center, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are.”
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.
Public broadcaster RTBF said police were searching houses in the Brussels area.
Employees at the Berlaymont building, which houses the headquarters of the European Commission, are being led out of the building under police escort, police sources have told the Belga news agency. There was no immediate word on the reason for the evacuation.
“We are at war and we have been subjected to acts of war in Europe for the last few months,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
U.S. President Barack Obama led calls of support to Michel after Brussels went into a state of virtual lock-down.
“We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama told a news conference in Cuba. “We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”