At least 30 killed in Brussels terror attacks

A series of explosions ripped through the check-in area at Brussels Airport, killing at least eleven people shortly before rush hour on Tuesday morning. A third device at the airport failed to detonate and was later dismantled by the police. Then a little more than an hour after the initial attacks, another explosion struck Maalbeek metro station near the EU headquarters, leaving about twenty people dead and many more wounded. The bomb was apparently detonated in the middle carriage, which was running along the platform at the time. The driver immediately halted the train and evacuated the first and last carriages.

The apparently coordinated explosions occurred a day after Jan Jambon, interior minister, warned jihadis could be looking to counter-attack after Salah Abdeslam’s arrest in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, having apparently managed to hide out for more than four months in the Belgian capital. Mr Abdeslam is the prime surviving suspect in November’s attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France and a string of cafes and restaurants in Paris.

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Passengers and airport staff are evacuated from the terminal building after Tuesday morning’s explosions. Photograph: Laurent Dubrule/EPA

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, stating that “caliphate soldiers, strapped with suicide vests and carrying explosive devices and machine guns” struck Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station. IS also warned of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq.

Immediately after the attacks, police conducted a series of house raids in and around Brussels. They found a bomb containing nails, chemical products and an IS flag in Schaarbeek, the Belgian prosecutor said. Earlier on Tuesday, police were reported to have found an unexploded suicide vest at Brussels airport as well as a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

The following day, two of the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks were named as brothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui, Belgian nationals. The Bakraoui brothers, who died in the attacks, had been sought by the police since a 15 March raid in Brussels.

Both men had criminal records for armed robbery but investigators had not linked them to Islamist militants until Abdeslam’s arrest, when police began a race against time to track down his suspected accomplices.

The federal prosecutor said Brahim was part of the attack at Zaventem airport that killed at least 11 people. Khalid struck at Maalbeek metro, where 20 people died.

Two other attackers at the airport have not yet been identified. One of them died, another is on the run.

Brahim el-Bakraoui has been identified as the middle of three men in a CCTV image of the suspects of the airport attack. Unconfirmed reports in Belgian and French media suggest the man on the left is the wanted jihadist Najim Laachraoui.

635942484480561804-AFP-550281864-withborder© AFP/Getty Images

The attacks put the Belgian capital in a state of virtual lockdown. All flights were cancelled for the day. All metro, tram and bus travel was shut down. A further 225 soldiers were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are”.

The many injured were treated in 25 different hospitals in Brussels and beyond. About 150 people remained in hospital, 61 in intensive care. One medic at the Vilvoorde hospital, V., said staff were faced with a range of traumatic injuries. Patients taken there suffered fractures, burns and deep cuts thought to have been caused by bolts or nails.

“We have seen deep flesh wounds,” she said. “The bombs used in the Brussels airport attack contained nails to create more victims. Some victims have nails in their bodies. Others have had to have limbs amputated. Explosive devices packed with nails increase the severity of the bombs’ ability to wound targets. The nails act as additional shrapnel, leading to greater loss of life and injury in inhabited areas than an explosive alone.”

The medic described her colleagues’ response as ‘conscientious’ and ‘courageous’. There was no panic at all, everyone was very professional.

The Belgian government quickly raised the threat status to the maximum level. “What we feared has happened,” said the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, at a press conference. “There are many dead, many injured.” Mr Michel also asked residents to “avoid all movement” as the authorities braced for the possibility of additional violence.
France 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.
Washington announced that Secretary of State John Kerry would visit Belgium on Friday to demonstrate support. President Obama, currently in Cuba, offered American assistance to Belgium and said the United States would do “whatever is necessary” to bring the attackers to justice. Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to succeed Obama in November’s US election, suggested suspects could be tortured to avert such attacks.
Tuesday’s attacks on a city that is home to the European Union and NATO will sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the plaza outside the Beurs/Bourse – the Belgian stock exchange – transformed into a giant message board for people to chalk tributes to the victims of the Brussels attacks and leave notes of defiance and solidarity.

 

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Author: Thomas Thielemans

Thomas Thielemans (°1990) holds a Bachelor in Journalism and a Master in Comparative and International Politics from University of Leuven. His research expertise lies in the area of the rule of law, violent extremism, defense and security policies, MENA, Africa, D.R. Congo and IPE. Contact: thomasthielemans@hotmail.com Twitter: TThielemans

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