Terrorist attacks rock Brussels Airport and EU quarter

Summary

Bombs have gone off at Brussels Airport and at Maalbeek metro station in the capital’s EU district this morning, with 13 confirmed dead at the airport and a possible 10 more in Maalbeek

Possible 23 dead

At least 13 people have been killed and 35 seriously injured when two explosions took place in the departures hall at Brussels Airport in Zaventem at approximately 8.00 this morning, emergency services have confirmed.

An hour later, a bomb went off on a metro in Maalbeek station in the EU quarter of Brussels. Unconfirmed reports said at least 10 people had been killed.

Staff in the CD&V headquarters on Wetstraat said they heard and felt the explosion; they went outside to find injured passengers leaving the smoke-filled station, and offered help until emergency services arrived.

Brussels public transport system has been shut down, including train stations. The three main train stations have been evacuated.

Brussels Airport has also been evacuated. Trains and other public transport to the airport have been cancelled. Emergency services are in attendance, and no flights are being allowed to land or to take off. “For the time being, we would ask the population to avoid all travel,” prime minister Charles Michel tweeted.

“I was on my break and heard and felt a huge explosion,” one member of Swissport staff at the airport told the VRT. “We can see the departures hall from here and I saw a plume of smoke. The windows are completely shattered. People are walking around in shock.”

Unexploded package found

According to witnesses, shots were fired and a man cried out in Arabic before the first explosion took place, with the second following seconds later. One of the explosions is confirmed to have been a suicide bomb, while the second was a package planted nearby. Reports said a third unexploded package was found.

Brussels Airport is now closed to all flights, with incoming flights diverted to Liège. It will remain closed until at least 6.00 tomorrow. A telephone number has been set up for families of passengers: 1771.

The crisis cell of the home affairs ministry was tracking the incident, and the National Security Council immediately raised the terror alert level across the country to the maximum four. The mobile phone network in the Brussels area was said to be saturated, and telecommunications minister Alexander De Croo advised people to communicate by text or by internet messaging. To help ease the pressure, Telenet opened up its hotspot network to all users for 24 hours.

Passengers arriving to catch flights at Flanders’ airports in Deurne, Ostend and Kortrijk are being searched on access roads. In Antwerp, all entrances and exits to Central Station are closed on police order, except for the one on Pelikaanstraat. Contrary to reports, however, the station was not evacuated. In Leuven, the Thalys to Paris was stopped and evacuated, and passengers were said to be stranded.

Travellers and residents can post a message saying they are safe on a special website set up by the Red Cross.

Photo: The scene at Brussels Airport's departures hall this morning following two bomb explosions
(c)Jef Versele/Facebook