Brussels attacks: Belgian police hunt for suspect

Islamic State claims responsibility for bombings that killed up to 34 people

 

Terrorism ripped through the heart of Brussels yesterday as up to 34 people were killed and more than 230 were wounded in two deadly attacks in the Belgian capital.

At least 14 people died when two bombs were detonated in the departure hall of Brussels airport at approximately 8am local time, shattering glass windows and bringing down a cascade of ceiling tiles on the dead and wounded.

About an hour later and 11km west of the airport, a bomb exploded on a packed rush-hour train as it was pulling out of a metro station in the EU district of the city.

Minutes later clouds of smoke and a burning smell emanated from Maelbeek metro station; the walking wounded soon followed.

More than 20 people lost their lives in the explosion, with more than a hundred injured.

“These are lives that have been shattered, people who were going about their business, probably in a carefree mood on the way to work or school and who have been mown down by the most extreme barbarism,” Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said, as he urged the nation to “remain united”.

The militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A series of raids were underway last night in the Belgian capital, with police moving in on a number of properties in the Schaerbeek area in the north of the city.

Country 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.

A massive manhunt was under way as police released footage of a man they suspect fled Brussels airport after the attack.

Two other men who appeared alongside the suspect in the CCTV footage are believed to have died in the attacks.

As hearses arrived to bring some of the deceased from the airport yesterday afternoon, a third controlled explosion took place in the airport terminal.

With yesterday’s deadly attacks taking place just four days after Belgian police captured Salah Abdeslam, a prime suspect in the November 13th attacks in Paris, Belgium’s police and intelligence services were last night facing questions about their preparedness for possible terror attacks.

Earlier this week, Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon said the country was on high alert for possible revenge attacks following the capture of Abdeslam on Friday.

While terrorism experts believe the scale of yesterday’s explosions mean that they are likely to have been planned in advance, the capture of Abdeslam and his apparent co-operation with police may have encouraged the perpetrators to act sooner than they had planned.

Security threat

Helicopters circled the EU quarter in Brussels as local people were urged to stay indoors.

Phone networks and the public transport system were also suspended for much of the day, with Brussels airport expected to close until at least tomorrow.

Luke Mac an Bháird, a 22-year-old Erasmus student from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, arrived in the airport minutes before the bomb went off.

“I was sitting at the gate . . . when all these people started running past me,” he said. “They were all screaming: ‘There’s a bomb. There’s a bomb. Run to the end of the concourse’.”

As Belgium began to come to terms with the terrorist atrocities, Mr Michel joined crowds at Place de la Bourse in the centre of the city last night where people had gathered to honour the dead and wounded.