NewsPublic Affairs / March 22, 2016

Terrorist Bombings Strike Brussels: What We Know

Two blasts hit the international airport; other explosions struck two metro stations. Belgium has issued a Level 4 alert, denoting "serious and imminent attack."terrorism, Brussels2016-03-22T00:00:00-04:00
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Terrorist Bombings Strike Brussels: What We Know

At least two dozen people are dead and more than 150 wounded, after explosions struck Brussels during the Tuesday morning rush hour, Belgian media report. Two blasts hit the international airport; another struck a metro station. Belgium has issued a Level 4 alert, denoting "serious and imminent attack."

"What we feared has happened, we were hit by blind attacks," Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a midday news conference Tuesday. He added that there were many dead and many injured.

Citing an an unofficial source for the emergency services, Belgian broadcaster RTBF says that 14 people died in the attack at the Zaventem airport, and that 20 people died at the Maelbeek metro station.

French President Francois Hollande says, "terrorists struck Brussels, but it was Europe that was targeted — and all the world that is concerned."

The number of dead and wounded could rise, as Belgian emergency agencies are focused on responding to those in need. Information is still emerging about this attack, and some reports may later prove inaccurate. Here's what we know so far:

 

Brussels' Zaventem Airport

A suicide attacker struck around 8 a.m. local time, according to a federal prosecutor. The explosions hit near the departure gates, collapsing ceiling panels and shattering glass windows. The blasts sent smoke billowing from the airport and set off a panic as people ran from the airport with whatever they could carry.

A video from nearby in the terminal that's been aired on Belgian broadcaster VRT shows travelers cowering as dust and smoke fill the air and sirens blare. We'll warn you: the video contains a profanity and may be stressful to watch.

The facility has now been evacuated and closed, with emergency crews looking after the wounded and security personnel gathering any evidence that might provide details about those responsible.

The attack began after a burst of gunfire and yelling in Arabic, according to Belgian media outlets.

 

Maelbeek Station

Around 9:11 a.m. local time, an explosion struck a metro train in or near the Maelbeek station, causing chaos close to the European Union headquarters in the city's center.

The station is about 7 miles from the airport. Images of the aftermath of that attack show people running for safety along the tracks through a darkened and smoke-filled tunnel, after trains were halted.

To clarify information that went out in an NPR news alert earlier this morning: There have been at least three explosions — two at the airport and one at a train station. An early report suggested there were three explosions on the subway.

 

Accounts From The Scene

Gabriele Steinhauser, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, who's in Brussels, relayed witness accounts to NPR's Morning Edition:

"Parts of the ceiling fell down. There was a lot of water from pipes breaking. People who were there during the explosions said there were scenes of chaos. It took about 10 minutes for security personnel to arrive. There were mothers with children and old people who didn't know what to do.

"People felt like the authorities were badly prepared, and when they were led out of the airport they were led right through the place where the explosions happened. People say there was a lot of blood."

 

The Response

Explosives teams from the Belgian Army detonated a suspicious package at the Zaventem airport around 9 a.m. ET — and the federal Zuidertoren (South Tower) building in Brussels was evacuated after suspicious items were found in an underground parking lot, according to the national crisis center and the national news service.

Brussels was placed under lockdown, with all its tunnels closed to traffic and children ordered to stay in school throughout the day. The public transit system was shut down. But some of those tunnels are now open again, and officials said that at 4 p.m., local time, trains will resume running.

The city's main airport is closed for the day, and flights are being rerouted to nearby cities. Eurostar train service between London and Brussels was also suspended.

Security officials in France and Germany are increasing their vigilance in the wake of the attacks.

Belgium's Crisis Center is urging residents not to use the phones, saying the system is saturated. Instead, they're asking people to rely on WiFi connections, text messages and social media to communicate.

 

Beyond Belgium

The attack comes four days after Belgian and French police arrested Salah Abdeslam, a central suspect in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. As of yesterday, authorities were still looking for his accomplices in that attack — including one man, Laachroui Najim, whose true identity was only recently revealed.

In Cuba, President Obama prefaced his public remarks with a mention of the attacks in Belgium, offering the support of the U.S. and saying, "This is yet another reminder that the world must unite... in fighting against the scourge of terrorism."

The U.S. Embassy in Brussels urged American citizens to shelter in place this morning. European Union institutions are at an Orange alert level, with normal business suspended and restricted access.

Tonight, both the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate will be lit in the black, yellow, and red colors of Belgium's flag. And in London, the Belgian flag was raised alongside the Union Jack atop Downing Street this afternoon. Both are flying at half-mast.

 

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

 

 

 

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