Brussels: At least 34 people have been reported killed and over 140 injured in a string of explosions that rocked the Belgian capital of Brussels today morning. The apparently coordinated attacks come four days after Salah Abdaslam, a prime suspect in the November 13 Paris attacks, was captured alive from Brussels.
Two blasts ripped through the busy Zaventem airport in Brussels during the morning rush hour at around 8 AM. Zaventem’s great hall was targeted in the blast. Reports say there was a shot fired in the departure hall first and then something was called out in Arabic. It was only after this that the two explosions rocked the facility. One of the explosions is believed to have taken place near the American Airlines check-in desk.
A total of 14 people are reported killed in the attack on the airport. The airport was shut down immediately, all flights to and from Brussels were diverted or cancelled. Authorities later confirmed the involvement of a suicide bomber in the attacks.
Around half an hour into the airport blasts, came another powerful blast at the Maalbeek metro station near the European Union’s main buildings while commuters were making their way to work in rush hour. A total of 20 people lost their lives in the attack, Belgium’s public broadcaster RTBF reported.
“We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened,” Belgian prime minister Charles Michel told reporters. Belgium raised its terror threat to Level 4, its highest level. The Belgian PM termed it a blind attack and a black day for the country.
Later in the evening, militant organisation Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the ghastly attacks, a news agency affiliated with the group said. "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 center of the Belgian capital Brussels," AMAQ agency was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon had on Sunday warned of revenge attacks following the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, in the gritty neighbourhood of Molenbeek on Friday. The attacks have drawn severe condemnations from across the world.
"We are at war," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by the French president. "We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered his condolences to the victims and hoped for the early recovery of the injured.
"News from Brussels is disturbing. The attacks are condemnable. Condolences to families of the deceased. May those injured recover quickly," PM Modi tweeted.
Notably, the attack comes barely a week ahead of the PM's scheduled visit to Brussels for the long-pending India-EU Summit scheduled for March 30. Notwithstanding the string of attacks, the government today said there were no change in plans in the PM's scheduled visit and that the programme would continue as scheduled.
Two Jet Airways flights, one from Delhi and the other from Mumbai, had landed just a little before the twin bomb blasts at the Brussels airport. Though no Indian casualties were reported, two crew members of Jet Airways were reported to have suffered injuries and were being provided medical assistance.
"We have spoken to our Ambassador. No reports of any Indian casualties," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
The MEA has also launched helpline numbers for the Indian Embassy for those looking for information and assistance.
Brussels airport said in a statement that it had cancelled all flights until at least 6am (0500 GMT) on Wednesday. The complex was evacuated and trains to the airport were stopped. All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were also suspended.
Airports in a string of cities across Europe swiftly announced they were boosting security, including in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Prague. While most European airports are known for stringent screening procedures for passengers and their baggage, that typically takes place only after passengers have checked in and are heading to departure gates.
Here are some highlights of the events that unfolded through the day:
Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel says his government is monitoring the situation minute-by-minute. In a tweet, he said that the “top priority” are the victims of the blasts.
There has been no report of any Indian casualty in the twin explosions at the Brussels airport, the Ministry of External Affairs said.
"We have spoken to our Ambassador. No reports of any Indian casualties," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
Two Jet Airways flights, one from Delhi and the other from Mumbai, had landed just a little before the twin bomb blasts at the Brussels airport, data with aviation website Flightradar24 showed on Monday. Jet Airways said it will soon be issuing a separate statement on the incident.
The airways had earlier issued an official statement saying that its aircraft in Brussels are safe.
Here is the statement:
All public transports in Brussels have been shut down as of now.
Sky News Middle East correspondent Alex Rossi, who was at the airport on his way to Tel Aviv, said, "I could feel the buildings move."
News agencies reported that shots were fired and shouts in Arabic were heard before the two blasts. The airport was hurriedly evacuated and had been closed for flights.
Pictures showed the terminal windows blown out from the force of the explosion and smoke rising high into the sky. Video also showed terrified passengers running for their lives out of the terminal.
The incident came as the Belgian capital was on a state of high alert following the arrest of Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam in the city last week.
Only on Monday, Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the country was braced for a possible revenge attack following the capture of the 26-year-old Abdeslam.
The Brussels airport said that there had been two explosions and the building was being evacuated. "Don't come to the airport area," it said.
France is seeking Abdeslam’s extradition so he can stand trial for his alleged role in the November 13 rampage of gunfire and suicide bombings that killed 130 people in Paris.