A series of explosions have killed at least 30 people and injured scores of people in the Belgian capital of Brussels.
The extremist Islamic group ISIS has since claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted on the Amaq news agency, a channel it has used before. Belgium, it said, was targeted because it had joined the international coalition opposing the spread of ISIS in Northern Iraq and Syria.
Two explosions struck the departures lounge of Zaventem Airport shortly after 6pm AEDT (7am in Brussels), one of them near the American Airlines desk and another near the SN Brussels Airlines desk. They are believed to have been the work of suicide bombers. A third, unexploded, device is reported to have been been found and detonated by security forces.
The Belga news agency reported witnesses heard gunfire and shouting in Arabic. ISIS has since claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement posted on the Amaq news agency, a channel it has used before. Belgium, it said, was targeted because it had joined the international coalition opposing the spread of ISIS in Northern Iraq and Syria.
The attack came just four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, suspected to be one of the ISIS members who escaped the Paris attack on November 13. The Belgian security forces had warned that reprisals were possible and the country had been placed on a state of high alert.
A witness of the attack at Zaventem told French television: “It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed. There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere. We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene.”
— Erielle Delzer CN (@ErielleDelzer) March 22, 2016
An hour later during morning peak traffic, another blast rocked Maelbeek metro station, near the European Union (EU) buildings. The toll is still being assessed but it is believed at least 10 people died at the airport and 20 at Maelbeek. As many as 180 people were reported injured at the two sites; many are reported to be in critical condition.
The Brussels metro and Zavantem airport have been shut down, EU employees told to stay home and many business closed for the day and allowed staff to go home.
This was the scene a short while ago, between the Arts-Lois and Maelbeek metro stations in Brussels. pic.twitter.com/aTZjqsF7Gt
— Evan Lamos (@evanlamos) March 22, 2016
— Sofia Bettiza (@SofiaBettiza) March 22, 2016
“I am appalled by the bombings this morning at Zavantem airport and the European district in Brussels which have cost several innocent lives and injured many others,” the European Council President Donald Tusk said in a statement. “I extend my sincerest sympathies to the relatives and friends of the victims. These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence.”
Belgium’s Prime Minister, Charles Michel, said “What we feared has happened” and called for calm and solidarity.
World leaders joined in condemnation of the attack. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed support for the people of Belgium. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said he was “shocked and concerned” by the savagery, adding “We need to stand together against these appalling terrorists.” Speaking from Havana during his historic visit to Cuba, President Barack Obama said the world had to unite “regardless of nationality or race or faith” in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.
In France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the horror of the November attacks in Paris clearly fresh in his thoughts, commented: “We are at war. Over the past few months in Europe, we have endured several acts of war.” President Francoise Hollande said: “Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit.”
France has deployed an extra 1600 police to monitor and protect its borders and transport infrastructure. Holland and Germany have also stepped up security at stations, airports and border posts.
The French newspaper Le Monde published a poignant cartoon reflecting France and Belgium’s shared grief and loss:
— Le Monde (@lemondefr) March 22, 2016
The Newsroom has published a timeline showing the spread of Islamic terrorism in Europe. – Compiled by Jake Nelson from web sources
Image, released on social media by Brussels Police, shows three men suspected of responsibility for the bombing at Zaventem Airport. Police fear the man on the right escaped.