Brussels attacks: Manhunt under way as Islamic State claims blasts which killed at least 30

Belgian police find nail bomb and Isis flag during raid after blasts at airport and metro

Passengers flee in panic through dust and debris in the immediate aftermath of a double bomb attack at Brussels airport. Video: Reuters

 

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for three deadly explosions in Brussels that claimed the lives of at least 30 people, and left more than 230 people wounded in two deadly attacks in the Belgian capital.

The two incidents, which took place within about an hour of each other, prompted a massive security shut-down in the city.

The first attack, which took place at about 8am local time, claimed the lives of at least 10 people after two explosions took place in quick succession at Brussels airport’s main departure lounge.

A third device was later destroyed in a controlled explosion.

An hour later, more than 20 people were killed when a bomb exploded on a packed rush-hour train as it left a station in the EU district. Dozens more were injured in the attack which took place at Maelbeek station, about 300 metres west of the European Commission and Council of the European Union headquarters.

Emergency services tended to the wounded who emerged on to Rue de la Loi, the main thoroughway linking the EU quarter and central Brussels, with rescue operations continuing for more than six hours.

As focus turned to the perpetrators of the attacks, a number of raids were ongoing on Tuesday night in Brussels, including in the northern Brussels suburb of Schaerbeek. The federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that an Islamic State flag, a nail bomb and chemical products had been found during one counter-terrorism raid.

A massive manhunt was underway as police released video footage of a man they suspect fled Brussels airport after the attack. Two other men who appeared alongside the suspect in the security footage are believed to have died in the attacks.

Zaventem mayor Francis Vermeiren told reporters the suspects “came in a taxi with their suitcases, their bombs were in their bags”.

“They put their suitcases on trolleys, the first two bombs exploded. The third also put his on a trolley but he must have panicked, it did not explode,” he said.

Country in mourning

Addressing the nation on Tuesday evening in a live TV address, King Philippe said he and his wife Queen Mathilde “shared the pain” of all those who had suffered in the attacks. But he called on Belgians to stay “confident” in the face of terror. “Today our country is in mourning. For each of us this March 22nd will never be a day like any other. In the face of threats, we will continue to respond together, firmly, with calm and dignity,” he said.

Tuesday’s terror attacks took place four days after Belgian police captured the chief suspect in the Paris atrocities, Salah Abdeslam, in a house in the Molenbeek suburb in the west of the city. The 26-year-old French national evaded arrest two days earlier when police raided an apartment in the Forest area of the city, shooting a 35-year-old Algerian national Mohamed Belkaid dead.

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said the battle against terrorism was a battle without borders. “We will act with all our force to defend ourselves,” he said as he announced three days of mourning in the country. “Our freedom was hit in the heart this morning in Brussels, as it was several months ago in Paris. It’s a common battle, a battle without borders.”

French prime minister Manuel Valls is due to travel to Brussels on Wednesday to meet his Belgian counterpart. Earlier, French president Francois Hollande described the atrocities as an “attack on Europe”.

“Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit ,” he said. “France will implacably continue the fight against terrorism both on the international level and at home.”

Security level raised

As the security level was raised to level four – a level not seen since the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks of November 13th – Belgium’s capital city was in virtual lockdown. European Commission employees were advised to stay at home, or to remain at their place of work.

While the metro, tram and bus system was suspended in the morning, a limited service on two metro lines resumed shortly before 5pm to facilitate workers returning home for the evening.

Some of Brussels’ main stations, including Gare du Midi and Gare du Nord, also opened at about 4 pm offering limited train services.

Brussels airport, which serves more than 23 million passengers each year, is unlikely to open until Thursday at the earliest, authorities said, while incoming flights were diverted to Amsterdam, Liege, Berlin and Charleroi airport south of Brussels.

The dead and wounded were treated in a number of hospitals across the city, including St Luc’s hospital, and a military hospital in Neder-over-Heembeek in northern Brussels. The Red Cross appealed on local radio for people to donate blood.

Tonight, Mr Michel joined crowds of people who had gathered in Place de la Bourse near the Grande Place in the centre of the city.

Hundreds of people had chalked messages of defiance and support in the square in front of the city’s Bourse; others brought candles and flowers.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that Europe would continue to face the terrorist threat, collectively. “These attacks have hit Brussels today, Paris on Tuesday – but it is Europe as a whole that has been targeted. The European Union and its institutions stand united in the face of terrorism,” he said.

European Council president Donald Tusk said that he was appalled by the bombings. “These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence,” Mr Tusk said.