Explosions hit Brussels airport, metro station; at least 34 killed, injured over 100: Europe on high alert

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Brussels, Mar 22: Western Europe was on high alert on Tuesday after attackers launched twin assaults in Belgium’s capital Brussels with bombs ripping through the airport and the underground metro line. More than 34 people were killed and hundreds wounded – many in critical condition.

Belgian’s federal prosecutor told state media one of the explosions at Zaventem airport was “probably” a suicide attack.

Police were going door-to-door throughout Brussels searching for suspects or others planning attacks. The interior minister said 600 additional police were deployed.

“This is an attack against our values, our freedom, and our democracy,” Brussels Mayor Ivan Mayeur said at a press conference. “We won’t let anyone attack our values in a cowardly way.”

The attacks struck the heart of European officialdom where NATO headquarters is based along with the European Parliament and  European Commission.

Footage from the airport – the country’s largest – showed people running from the terminal building as plumes of smoke rose to the sky. Fourteen people were killed and more than 90 wounded with the casualty toll steadily rising on Tuesday.

Two explosions have hit the Brussels Zaventem airport, killing up to 34 people and injuring over 100, hospital sources told local media.

Health ministry says 11 people killed at Zaventem airport, shortly before another blast kills 15 at Maelbeek station.

Shortly after the airport blasts on Tuesday morning, an explosion also struck the Maelbeek metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital, killing 15 people, the city transport authority said. The station is close to European Union institutions.

People flee from the Brussels airport in this image taken from video, shot by a bystander in the the immediate aftermath of blasts at the airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.  REUTERS/Asher Gunsberg/Handout via Reuters TV
People flee from the Brussels airport in this image taken from video, shot by a bystander in the the immediate aftermath of blasts at the airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Asher Gunsberg/Handout via Reuters TV

The Belgian federal prosecutor told state media that the explosion at the airport was a suicide attack.

Footage from the airport – the country’s largest – showed people running from the terminal building as plumes of smoke rose to the sky.

The powerful blasts caused parts of the ceiling to fall down and windows were shattered.

All metro lines were shut down after the attacks. Some witnesses at the Maelbeek said people with blood on their faces were seen at the scene. There were conflicting reports on casualties, with Belgian media reporting several deaths.

Ian McCafferty, a witness at the station, said the blast happened during busy rush hour traffic.

“People started running when they saw smoke coming,” he said. “The point of these attacks is to make you live in fear but I refuse to.”

The interior ministry raised the country’s terror alert to the highest level after the blasts and Brussels crisis centre told people, “Stay where you are”.

Reuters news agency said shots were fired before the explosions at the airport went off.

Local media reported that the blasts happened near the American Airlines as hundreds of people were checking in.The metro system was closed down after the attacks [Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from the airport, said there were dozens of ambulances at the scene and police were clearing the area of stranded passengers, some in shock.

“An eyewitness of the attack told us that he heard loud explosions and as he heard it, he took cover. He said the explosions were very loud and it was the most frightening moment of his life,” our correspondent said.

The country had been on high alert since the arrest in Brussels last week of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in last year’s Paris attacks that left 130 people dead.

Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was aware of the risk of a possible revenge attack following the capture of 26-year-old Abdeslam.

“We know that stopping one cell can … push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” he told public radio.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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